By: Mallory Grimm
Image from Pexels by Polina Zimmerman
Author’s Note: During this pandemic, I’ve noticed more public concern on mental health than I ever have before. Inspired by my own experiences, I wanted to shed a light on how this pandemic has affected college students and their mental health. However, these issues and illnesses are not a one size fits all condition, and I am in no way a professional. If you or someone you know is struggling, resources are down below. You are important.
College can already place a strain on a student's mental well-being. But what do you do when a global pandemic sweeps in and places even more stress on you? On top of completing classwork, extracurricular activities, and employment, the pandemic has brought a strain of pressure, stress, and even trauma on many students.
In a recent survey, 85% of college students said COVID-19 has given them an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms. While not everybody has a diagnosed mental illness, everyone has mental health. Like physical health, mental health refers to one’s mental wellbeing. This includes one’s thoughts, emotions, our social connections, and our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties. Mental illness is a condition that involves significant changes in one’s emotions, thinking, and behavior.
While navigating this new world COVID-19 has brought on, the mental health of students has taken a significant hit. WT alum, Darby Sparkman, says the pandemic encouraged her to rethink the way she takes care of herself. Diagnosed with depression, Darby is no stranger knowing the hardship of navigating a mental health problem. She started seeing a therapist over the phone during quarantine, and even began exercising more as a way to lessen her symptoms and clear her mind.
“This was a time for me to start finding what works for me and what doesn’t”, Darby said. “When I’m experiencing symptoms of depression, my body shuts down. Moving it helps motivate me.”
Exercising and moving your body is a great way to cope, but what do you do when you can’t move or leave your house? With a virus like COVID, it can cause fear and stress of coming in contact with it. While the virus makes you physically sick, it can also cause stress and strain in your mind. With a mover like Darby, being infected with COVID added on more distress. Diagnosed with COVID in October 2020, Darby explains the toll it took on her.
“The mental toll was worse than the physical symptoms for me,” Darby said. “When I couldn’t leave my house or even my bed, I was left alone with my thoughts.”
Carter Hall, senior digital communications and media major, shared a similar experience with his time in quarantine while recovering from COVID.
“I am not a homebody at all,” Carter said. “Having to stay in pulled me down even more mentally, and it made my anxiety worse.”
When dealing this mental illness, being creative and expressive with the arts has helped many. Diagnosed with ADD and anxiety, Carter kept his creative side sharp to help his mental health all through this pandemic. Reading, writing, and journaling were a big help to keep his creative aspects on point, and even helped reduce stress.
When asked about mental health stigma, Carter opened up about his experiences with the struggles of being diagnosed with ADD.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone else with ADD.” Carter said. “It isn’t as talked about as it is now. I had to learn a lot of things on my own.”
Overcoming and erasing stigma is one of the biggest challenges facing mental health. Stigma can prevent individuals from speaking out about their struggles, or even going to receive professional help. While this pandemic is tragic, there can be some light towards it. For some students, the pandemic encouraged them to start receiving help, and taking their mental wellness seriously.
For Carson Bradley, a sophomore digital communications and media major, his journey of taking care of his mind started not too long ago.
“I only started taking care of my depression very recently,” Carson says. “It’s been a positive experience so far.”
Having a strong support system in place when dealing with mental illness can help immensely. For Carson, depression not only affected him, but his older brother as well. Being able to talk about struggles in the open with someone you trust helps relieves the feeling of not being alone. Not only that, but it’s a starting place of breaking the stigma.
“I knew I had to stop self-doctoring myself, and I finally started to open up about what I’m feeling,” Carson said. “I couldn’t keep going about dealing with it the way I had been.”
Many colleges are recognizing the effect COVID has had on their students. For students at WT, there are multiple ways students can receive support with their mental health. Located in the Student Success Center 116 in the JBK, the WT Student Counseling Services offers students opportunities to talk with professionals in a safe environment. For students fully online, the Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) program is a self-guided program, at no cost. With these resources in place, students can get the support they need during these troubled times.
Image from Pexels by Madison Inouye
With this pandemic, we’ve focused a lot on our physical health, but our mental health is just as important. Especially with those living with mental illness, this pandemic has been challenging and isolating, and left a lot of us feeling lost. But as we start having these tough conversations and share our experiences, we find community, common ground, and even hope. Life comes at us pretty fast, and taking care of your mind in the midst of the chaos is now more important than ever.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline- 1-800-237-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text SHARE to 741741
WTAMU Counseling Services: Student Success Center 116 806-651-2340