World Campus helps students find mental health services no matter where they are

April 20, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students come to Katie Marshall stressed about new jobs or anxious about balancing school and family. Some are seeking mental health services for the first time and don’t know where to start.

The Penn State World Campus students who turn to Marshall, mental health case manager for World Campus, live and work across the country and around the world, in different hemispheres and different time zones. Marshall has never met most of them.

Marshall’s job is to connect students learning online to resources in their own communities. She doesn’t provide counseling remotely, but works with students to find mental health professionals or other resources where they live.

As the coronavirus pandemic shifts the landscape everywhere, Marshall wants students to know that mental health services are still available, for problems big and small.

“We don’t want students not to call because they think their problems aren’t big enough,” she said. “We want them to reach out rather than assuming, ‘Everything is full, I can’t get access to that.’”

“People are still going through what they were going through before, but there might be added stress now,” she said. “Maybe they have anxiety, and now have lost income or their job because their business closed down.”

Since early March, many more students have contacted the Care and Concern staff with academic and financial issues than in a typical semester, said Ashley Adams, World Campus director of student affairs. Requests for mental health services have not seen a similar increase, but Adams and Marshall say they expect that may change as the semester progresses.

Even before the pandemic shifted most colleges to remote learning, universities were working to figure out how to provide online learners with services traditionally offered on campuses. Penn State has been a leader in providing mental health services to online students, Adams said.

“It speaks to Penn State’s commitment to provide comprehensive resources to all of its students,” she said. “We are innovative in this space in terms of providing mental health resources.”

Adams’ office worked closely with Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services to create Marshall’s position about two years ago. Until Penn State moved to remote teaching, learning and work in March, Marshall, who is a licensed professional counselor, worked out of the Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offices in downtown State College.

Penn State World Campus students are on average older than on-campus students and may have more “compounding issues” such as divorce, job loss, or caring for children or aging parents, Adams said. But they still face many of the same stressors as other students, such as anxiety and depression, she said.

Students can find Marshall through the Penn State World Campus student website or by calling CAPS to set up an appointment.

Marshall typically meets with students by phone or Zoom for a 30-minute appointment to talk about what their concerns are and what kind of resources might be available. She helps students figure out their health insurance benefits or how to apply for assistance if they don’t have insurance and walks them through the process of connecting with providers.

Marshall also refers students to services available to all Penn State students, You@PSU, a new online wellness portal, and Life Hacks — free, drop-in gatherings staffed by CAPS therapists that are now being offered remotely. 

At a time when other areas of students’ lives may need to take priority, Adams said her office is there “to affirm and support as much as possible their student identity and their decision to earn their degree — and to support them in challenging times.”

Visit the Penn State World Campus student website to find out more information about mental health services for World Campus students.

Last Updated September 23, 2020