Just more than six months have passed since the first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Michigan. The identification of these cases quickly prompted extreme yet necessary reactions, as the following day, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel shut down the Ann Arbor campus and urged students to return home. Eleven days later, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her Stay Home, Stay Safe order, closing all services deemed nonessential and sending the state of Michigan into quarantine.
Undeniably, all of our lives have undergone enormous changes since those first cases were identified — and these changes naturally induced additional stress. Our social interactions are fewer and further between, requiring masks and social distancing with most, if not all, people outside of our households. Most of our classes are online, with those that are in person requiring face masks and social distancing upon entering campus grounds.
Students have been advised to avoid out-of-area travel throughout the semester, including trips to visit family. Even if we choose to disregard the latter, we still live with the constant anxiety of exposing vulnerable family members to the virus spreading rampantly on our campus. We now live with an overwhelming number of rules that, while meant to keep us safe, inhibit our ability to fulfill our needs as inherently social creatures.
Exacerbating our stress arising from the pandemic and our extremely limited social interactions is the chaos emanating from all aspects of our world. The wildfires currently ravaging the West Coast, one of which has now burned more than 103,000 acres, becoming one of the largest fires in Los Angeles County history, in addition to the Creek fire which has burned 304,604 acres. The National Hurricane Center is, for the second time in history, starting to use Greek letters to label this year’s hurricanes because they exhausted their list of traditional names.
Furthermore, this summer was characterized by protests as much as it was by the pandemic, with a much needed anti-racism movement finally gaining popularity by virtue of the leaders of Black Lives Matter and spurred by recent incidents of police brutality. Closer to home, the fall semester welcomed strikes by the Graduate Employees’ Organization and the residential advisors of University Housing regarding university reopening plans and policing on campus.
Throughout all of this turmoil, we, as students, are still trying to deal with the typical stresses of college life: maintaining our GPA, involving ourselves in student organizations, applying for jobs and internships and planning for our future after graduation. The immense weight of all of this, coupled with the chaos of the external world, is indisputably harmful to our mental health.
Prior to the pandemic, one in five college students reported experiencing one or more diagnosable mental disorders; during the pandemic, the rate of depression among college students was found to have increased. This isn’t shocking, as so much is yet to be known about the pandemic and the coronavirus itself, making this an inherently anxiety-inducing situation. Additionally, students are left to worry whether the quality of the education that they are paying so much for will remain the same when received over Zoom. Even more, graduating students are anxious about whether they will be able to find a job upon graduation.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we take care of our mental health. Mental health issues are associated with twice the likelihood of dropping out of school entirely, and with all of the chaos that currently characterizes our campuses, headlines and news feeds, college students are bound to experience more mental struggles than they have in the past. Consequently, the coming months will see a surge of students seeking mental health services, potentially overwhelming the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services — which already faces the issue of understaffing, leading to long wait times for students in need.
It’s important to note, however, that CAPS is still open to students during the COVID-19 pandemic, with both in-person and virtual options available. At the time of writing this column, the current wait time for the next available initial consultation is 15 business days. While this is a long time for those seeking mental health services, there are emergency resources available as well — and it’s still worth scheduling the initial consultation if it means that you will eventually end up receiving the help that you need. Outside of CAPS, the Wolverine Support Network, a student-led organization, offers virtual weekly groups meant to empower its members to support each other’s well-being.
Still, though, the University must place more emphasis on recruiting counselors and specialists so that this wait time can be reduced. Until then, as we enter the colder months, which already tend to see increases in the number of people seeking mental health support, we must do what we can to take care of ourselves. Try to keep a consistent routine, talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust and make a goal to do something for yourself each day, even if it’s something small. As always, be sure to check in with those that you care about — they’re probably going through something similar.
If you notice any symptoms of depression, such as low energy, insomnia, apathy or hopelessness, reach out to CAPS, a trusted loved one or your doctor. If you experience suicidal ideation or are experiencing a mental health emergency, call the CAPS after-hours line at 734-764-8312 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Elayna Swift can be reached at email@example.com.
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