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Can a Fraternal Affiliation Help Members Survive a Pandemic?

Bobbi Larsen
Bobbi Larsen
Education Consultant

The Postsecondary Education Research Center (PERC) at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville recently released a report indicating that fraternity- and sorority-affiliated students are experiencing higher levels of positive mental health along with decreased rates of depression and anxiety.

You did not misread that. I did in fact say fraternity/sorority members are reporting higher levels of positive mental health and decreased rates of depression and anxiety. Some of the additional findings in the report included these facts:

  • Fraternity and sorority members believe that good support systems exist on campus for students going through a tough time.
  • Fraternity and sorority members are more likely to seek therapy or counseling at some point in their lives.
  • Members have a lower chance of being diagnosed with depression throughout their lives.

You may be thinking, “How are those results happening in the fraternal realm when most of the rest of the world is struggling?”

The Pandemic’s Toll on Mental Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for all of us that can be stressful, overwhelming, and can cause strong emotions. Public health actions like social distancing can make us feel isolated and lonely, and can increase stress and anxiety.

In fact, a recent article in Nature shared that more than 42 percent of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase from 11 percent the previous year.

That same Nature article shared, “studies and surveys conducted so far in the pandemic consistently show that young people, rather than older people, are most vulnerable to increased psychological distress, perhaps because their need for social interactions are stronger.”

For students, it can be even worse. Active Minds surveyed 2,086 college students in April 2020 asking them about the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health. They found that:

  • 1 in 5 college students say their mental health has significantly worsened under COVID-19
  • 80 percent report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health
  • 91 percent report feeling stress or anxiety
  • 81 percent feeling disappointment or sadness
  • 80 percent report feeling loneliness or isolation

What Can Be Done to Impact Student Mental Health?

Active Minds found that the most important things for leaders to be thinking about for student mental health during and after the pandemic include:

  • Increased academic support — Leniency, accommodations, and flexibility
  • More mental health resources — Increased investment in counseling and coping resources
  • Focus on soft skills — Empathy, compassion, communication, understanding, and validation for the burdens students are experiencing
  • More opportunities for social connection — Replace canceled events, services, and classes with virtual ones
  • Engage in long-term planning — Colleges need to be prepared to help students heal and recover when they return and put in place improved practices and protocols to more easily pivot to remote learning in case of another similar crisis.

Having a Fraternal Affiliation Can Help

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, students affiliated with fraternities and sororities are being impacted differently when it comes to mental health.

Circling back to the PERC report, “Fraternities and sororities provide collegiate members and alumni with opportunities for growth and development, including personal and professional support as well as meaningful and impactful connections.”

Those connections and opportunities are the kinds of things the experts are touting as ways to cope with the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic. Dr. Gary Pike of Indiana University recently found that fraternity and sorority membership is associated with higher levels of engagement for students.

Gallup recommends that higher education should be leading the wellness revolution, arguing that higher education has been given the opportunity for a new beginning. Fraternal organizations have that same opportunity.

Let’s look at the good in fraternities and sororities. Members are more engaged, report higher levels of positive mental health, have built-in support systems and ways to engage with one another, and can partner with their host institutions to improve their campus communities.

The pandemic has taken a great deal from all of us, but as we come out on the other side, can we use our existing organizations to make things better? I think so.

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