Mental Health and COVID-19

Mental+Health+and+COVID-19

Mental Health & COVID-19, Merritt Dismuke

Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make students feel isolated, lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But the mental health effects of the virus are as essential to address as are the physical health effects.

“My stress and anxiety went up a ridiculous amount due to the pandemic,” said Jarrod Wright, junior exercise science pre-med major. “I am a people person. I thrive off of social interaction, so being stuck in my house all day was terrible.”

More than a third of Americans have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics and the US Census Bureau. The survey shows that people between 18 and 29 years old have been feeling the most anxious and depressed. Organizations such as the CDC, WHO and Mental Health America have suggested taking a break from reading news stories, taking care of your body and connecting with your community to help cope. But since returning to campus, many students are struggling. Fear of contracting COVID-19 is a frequent anxiety.

“The pandemic since the beginning has been stressful for me, but it has really peaked during the last month here in Milledgeville,” said an anonymous senior. “It’s been hard because even if I am social distancing and being safe, my roommates are not, so it’s like I’m doing nothing to be safe.”

The pandemic has also gotten in the way of academics. Many are unhappy with the way GC has responded to the pandemic, directly affecting their mental health. Being forced to attend in-person classes, lack of sanitation, ignorance and infringement of social distancing/mask guidelines are triggering issues.

“I pride myself in being a good student and trying my hardest, but this semester, in terms of my work ethic, I do not feel like I have left that impression on my professors,” said another anonymous student. “I feel like I am constantly on alert every time I leave my apartment. I am trying to do the best I can to not get COVID, but even more so not to give it to others. It’s so hard when it feels like the bare minimum is being done to help me do that.”

Packed lines in front of downtown restaurants and bars instill fear in some but excitement in others. When students return to campus after a spring and summer spent cooped up in their childhood bedrooms, many will take those opportunities to connect with their friends and strangers. Their fear of the virus may be overtaken by their eagerness to connect, as students depend on social connections to build their identities. That’s why many are willing to take the risk to interact and ignore social-distancing guidelines.

“I do not feel that this virus is a major threat. And regardless of that, I realized I would rather live my life to the fullest and be happy even if it meant risking catching it,” Wright said. “Open things up. Let us be normal again. Because until kids like me have that true social interaction with other people, we won’t be happy.”

Dr. Jessica Saunders, assistant professor for the Department of Psychological Sciences, attributes risky behavior to the continuing brain development of college students.

“College students are still developing so they don’t have the same response to dangerous situations that adults do necessarily,”Saunders said. “The frontal lobe is still developing and they might take more risks than your average adult.”

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to stress relief. Hobbies such as journaling, meditation, yoga and other creative outlets are proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Saunders recommends keeping a routine and connecting with others to improve mental health.

“Coming back to school was so stressful because I am immunocompromised, so being around that many people on campus was terrifying,” said Bailey Bishop, senior sociology major. “During this time, I have tried to put back into place a lot of coping mechanisms whether that is yoga, meditation, creating a daily schedule, or journaling about this experience. As my mom always says, we are living history.”

On-campus resources and peer-support groups include Counseling Services and student-let organizations such as Active Minds and To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). Counseling Services staff are meeting with students via telephone and video conferencing only.  This practice, known as  “telemental health” or “telehealth” service, is part of GC’s effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Off-campus resources include support lines, local ministry groups and counselors based out of Milledgeville. Optum Support Line supports students who may be experiencing anxiety or stress following the recent developments around COVID-19. Stephen’s Ministry, a program of the First United Methodist Church in Milledgeville, also provides lay support for those coping with stressful situations.

“The social isolation that can come with COVID-19 can be really damaging to one’s mental health,” Saunders said. “It’s really important to seek out people whether that’s via phone, text or having a video-chat to improve your connection that will improve your sense of well-being and your mood overall.”

 

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