College students faced many challenges when COVID-19 forced most schools to shift online. Mental health issues have increased, giving even more reason for research and intervention. As the new Fall semester approaches, it is necessary to foster connectedness and provide social and mental health support to these young people.
What is happening?
In line with the social isolation effort to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, colleges across the nation have closed their campuses and dormitories, forcing students to leave their campus community, friends, classes, and familiar routines. While many students may be happy to reconnect with family again, some have returned to abusive households, others to an empty fridge, and others to no home at all. Coursework was quickly transitioned to online for the remainder of the year. Much-anticipated culminating end of the year events, including commencement ceremonies, have been canceled. Many students have lost their on-campus or local jobs, and likewise, the job search for seniors has been severely disrupted. All the while, college students are experiencing these sudden and unexpected changes while physically separated from their familiar on-campus support systems.
Impact on mental health:
It is well studied that college students are especially prone to feelings of loneliness, and they experience higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to the general population. During this period of social isolation, uncertainty and abrupt transitions, they are prone to further worsening of these feelings. Removal from their social support system and extracurricular activities at their school can cause students to feel less connected with their friends, organizations, and hobbies. In addition, they are facing uncertainty about their future, their own health, and the health of their friends and loved ones. The situation they are living through is stressful and anxiety provoking, as there is a constant fear of the unknown in addition to a loss of control, making them especially vulnerable to developing mental health concerns.
Tips for college students:
1. Know that it is okay to feel how you are feeling.
It is normal during this crazy time to experience feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, or all of the above. You are allowed to feel this way and to communicate with others how you are feeling. It is also okay to sit with these emotions. If these feelings worsen to the extent that you are no longer able to function like your normal self, reach out to one of the resources listed below for additional support.
2. Maintain a routine.
Start your day at about the same time each day. Set a goal for coursework to be completed for each morning and afternoon. Maintain adequate nutrition by eating three healthy meals per day; now is a great time to try new recipes! Try to get in at least one physical activity each day. It is very good for your mental health to get some fresh air and go on a walk, run, or bike ride.
3. Practice good sleep hygiene.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. The goal should be 7-9 hours per night. Limit screen time in the evening, and avoid caffeine starting in the afternoon.
4. Connect with others.
It is easy to quickly feel lonely and secluded from others during this stay-at-home period. Make an effort to stay socially connected by engaging in regular video or phone calls with friends and family.
5. Take a break.
Take time for yourself each day. Step away from the news and from your coursework to do something you enjoy and that you find relaxing or rejuvenating.
3 Key Points
- The COVID pandemic has resulted in increased loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression, among many Americans, including college students.
- Students can use a variety of coping strategies while at home to improve their mental health.
- There are local and national resources to help students receive further support.