Amid pandemic, MU students struggle with mental health

Isolation and stress over online school have led to mental health struggles for some MU students.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, some MU students are struggling with mental health, brought on by isolation, online classes and other stressors.

On a worldwide scale, experts have said isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, uncertainty about the future and heightened anxiety amid financial hardships -- and college students haven’t been exempt from this. According to the Pew Research Center, young people and those impacted financially by the outbreak are struggling most psychologically.

Dr. Keith Herman, a professor of school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education, said students’ mental health response to the pandemic will depend on several factors. These include how directly students are impacted by the illness -- such as death or severe illness of a close friend or family member -- as well as access to resources such as food, shelter and internet connection.

Herman added that pre-existing mental health concerns are a risk factor for new or worsening symptoms, and that it is important that students with existing mental health concerns turn to coping mechanisms they have used in the past. He said it is also likely that we will see increases in people experiencing anxiety and depression due to the pandemic, as well as an increase in substance abuse rates.

“It is imperative that we start planning for how to support people during this time to minimize risk of these problems and help people find new adaptive responses,” Herman said.

Freshman Amelia Hewins withdrew from classes for the semester due to mental health. Previously diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Hewins said her anxiety shot up with the spread of the pandemic. Hewins withdrew from her classes before it was announced students would have the option to do pass/fail. She said if the school had let students know earlier she might have remained in her classes. However she also said the pass/fail option would have made her feel like she wasn’t working for anything because it would not have boosted her GPA.

“The worst thing for me is feeling like I’m working for nothing and I do feel like that’s what I would have been doing,” Hewins said.

MU sophomore Brogan Eyre describes herself as a pretty positive person under typical circumstances but in recent weeks has struggled to keep that sense of positivity as she shelters in place at her apartment in Columbia. Eyre said she stayed at her apartment to try and retain some sense of normalcy.

“Under normal circumstances I think I’m very very fortunate in the fact that I have a very optimistic and positive state of my mind,” Eyre said. “There’s days where I do wake up and there’s just that kind of sadness and downtroddenness that I am really unaccustomed to.”

Eyre said she is making efforts to talk about her emotions, especially with her mother. She has also been doing mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation.

Herman emphasized the importance of sticking to a routine, saying that doing so can help students regain some sense of control and predictability. He also reinforced guidelines released by the Center for Disease Control of exercising, connecting with friends and family on a regular basis and accessing tools that promote mindfulness, such as the Sanvello app. The premium version of the app is available to all MU students.

Herman also said it’s important to take regular breaks from the news and even from discussing and thinking about the pandemic, unless these conversations are focused on solutions. He said listening to or reading about repetitive negative news can perpetuate a feeling of apprehension.

“When we ruminate about negative events or co-ruminate with others, we increase our anxiety and depression,” Herman said.

MU Counseling Center is continuing to provide counseling services remotely to students residing in the state of Missouri and can connect out-of-state students to local healthcare providers. The MU Psychological Service Clinic and Center for Evidence-Based Youth Mental Health are also offering free therapy sessions for those experiencing stress from the Covid-19 pandemic. Those interested can fill out this survey: https://missouri.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3xuT92zKBykQVdX.

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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