The novel coronavirus pandemic shook the world — and it's still shaking the world. In the US alone, we've hit the 100,000 death mark and 1 million cases across the country. As some states are beginning to open up in the initial aftermath (though a second wave is in the conversation), our mental health has also been taken for a terrifying ride.
The coronavirus has caused fear and being at home for long periods of time often results in anxiety and stress; it can exasperate a mental illness that someone already experiences. However, for college students in particular, their lives were altered in an unprecedented way. With schools shut down, many students moved back home, away from their lecture halls, friends, and peers. Classes transitioned to online learning. Depending on the university, campus life may not even reopen in the fall. And, most notably, college seniors have had to miss out on traditional graduations. It's a big ball of unknowns and uncertainties.
It is this feeling of uncertainty and the unknown that is difficult for people in general to grapple with, practicing psychiatrist Frank Chen, MD, chief medical officer at Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital and Houston Adult Psychiatry, told POPSUGAR. Completing tasks could become harder and students might believe that they aren't going to achieve, he said, noting that though they haven't "failed," per se, the epidemic, in a sense, is "a great training for a lot them to learn how to deal with perceived failures" and how to adapt to find purpose.
College students, Dr. Chen added, often make their own structure, and being "yanked from this environment where you have autonomy" and feeling like you're not in control of situations can be unsettling. Gravitating back to a time when you lived at home can also present itself as an adjustment. Psychologist Sherry Benton, PhD, agreed, saying it's in no way comparable to returning for spring break or the summer. "It's moving home in the middle of a pandemic crisis where your extended family is just as affected as you are," she said.
Dr. Benton is the founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect, an online educational and therapy service for colleges, and she worked for about 25 years in student counseling. The novel coronavirus, she said, acts as a rug being pulled out from underneath us, students included. "When you lose that sense of safety and security, all kinds of things like anxiety, depression, and trauma reactions are likely to increase," she told POPSUGAR. So, there's no question, she said: if you have a history of mental illness, the stressors this pandemic presents can have more of an effect on you.
Ahead, we asked four different college students how they have been able to manage their mental health during this time. To each their own, but we hope you take this insight and try to work out whatever you're going through personally. Also ahead, we've including advice from Dr. Chen and Dr. Benton on how to cope.