Weglinski: The Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Wreck Your Mental Health


Gwen Christopherson

Freshman Michael Manhard takes a break from online classes in a common area at the University of Utah on Oct. 10, 2020. (Photo by Gwen Christopherson | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sonia Weglinski, Opinion Writer


September is Suicide Awareness Month — a month dedicated to raise awareness about the highly stigmatized topic and remember the ones we lost. With almost half of Americans stating that their mental health has worsened since the pandemic, suicide prevention is more crucial than ever, especially for teens and young adults. “A lot of people are calling attention to coronavirus because it’s right in front of us, but at the same time, teens’ depression rate — it’s a silent threat,” said 18-year old Audrey in an NPR interview.

On top of that, the stakes of this year’s election have caused stress and anxiety in millions of Americans. With the Senate majority still up in the air, my friends continue to be worried their basic human rights will be taken away, and I’m concerned for my planet’s health. And of course, when classes moved online, we were forced to adapt to a new routine and way of learning. Many of us struggled with motivation and were overwhelmed by financial stress. Even worse, some of us have lost loved ones. Now add social deprivation to the mix.

In an age group where suicide is already the second-leading cause of death, it’s unsurprising that when faced with social isolation, anxiety, global hopelessness and depression, suicide rates go up. However, there are resources and methods we can use to combat declining mental health during this uncertain school year.

Being a college student amid high tensions and restrictions can be extremely difficult. We’ve lost job opportunities and internships. Many of us didn’t get to walk at our high school graduations, play that final game or say our last goodbyes to hometown friends. And although it’s been months since lockdown and most of us have accepted this reality, knowing that our life has been uncontrollably altered can lead to spiraling thoughts.

Most debilitating is the restricted social factor, especially for our age demographic. Hyeouk Chris Hahm, a Boston University School of Social Work associate professor and chair of social research, said that isolation “is very difficult for these young people who need to be out there, who need to develop relationships, who want to get themselves known to the world.” One study reports that even prior to the pandemic, 60.5% of university students felt lonely. Quarantine exacerbated those feelings.

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these emotions. For example, instead of locking yourself in your dorm, opt for participating in safe, in-person, socially distanced events — after Governor Herbert’s recent mandate ends, of course. Hiking with a few friends while wearing masks or attending a drive-in movie night are practical ways to alleviate our sense of isolation.

Moreover, consistent checkups on your mental health are crucial. This item may seem obvious, but sometimes we can get caught up with our coursework and obligations and forget to step back and ask ourselves how we’re really doing. University of Utah freshman Chloe Taylor said that having a creative outlet, like making music, has helped her cope this semester. She also emphasized the importance of accepting the present situation. “We can’t go through life being angry with things we can’t control — we have to remember that everyone else is going through the same thing. It’s best to rework our expectations and just live in the present,” Taylor said.

In tandem with finding safe ways to socialize and express ourselves, taking care of our bodies and minds is key. If we feel suffocated from social media, we can delete it. If toxic people are draining us, we can cut them out. And on a daily basis, doing practical things like getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating and so on can all contribute to a healthier mental state. We do have some power to change this aspect of our daily lives.

However, sometimes we might need to take the next step and ask for external help — and that’s okay. Consider talking to a friend or a counselor if mental health challenges are severely impacting your life. While it might seem scary at first, once you recognize an internal problem, it is the first step in finding a solution. In fact, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute has a crisis line available for students 24/7. By dialing 1-800-273-8255, you can get in touch with a trained therapist in minutes. Moreover, our campus Counseling Center features a COVID-19 relief resource page that offers a range of supports, from emergency student loans to guided meditation videos.

Although we don’t have much control over the pandemic and other external factors, we still have the power to care for ourselves. Through adapting, accommodating and pursuing healthier lifestyles, achieving normal mental health is possible even amid the craziness of 2020.


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