‘None of us can handle this by ourselves’: Pandemic, online schooling heighten struggles with mental health

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 12:30pm

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Design by Jessica Chiu

Not only do students have to deal with a new format of learning this semester with the shift to mostly online school, they’re also struggling with changes in their mental health. 

Todd Sevig, director of Counseling & Psychological Services at the University of Michigan, said the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the psychological well-being of many students.

“Whenever we change our environment that quickly and that unexpectedly, that really affects our mental health,” Sevig said.

Sevig said CAPS has been collecting data from 1,500 students who requested a meeting this semester. According to Sevig, 76% said they sought assistance for their general mental health, 71% for isolation/loneliness, 71% for motivation/focus, 66% for missed experiences/opportunities and 65% for academics. Sevig said he thinks the high percentage of students who reported feeling isolated and losing motivation is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Motivation is very different, sometimes it’s hard to focus, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the assignments. I think it’s creating some increased anxiety,” Sevig said.

Social Work graduate student Selena Kas-Mikha, president of Mental Health Matters, a student organization advocating for awareness on mental health, said a lot of people are feeling fear and anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to a fall survey issued by the School of Social Work, 78% of 510 students from the School of Social Work said they preferred online-only classes during the COVID-19 pandemic while 22% disliked online-only classes.

“To me, what that means is that there is a fear and anxiety about returning back to schools because no one knows what to expect,” Kas-Mikha said.

Concern over the upcoming election and larger societal issues like racism can also heighten stress. Kas-Mikha said the fear and anxiety caused by a multitude of stressors, like the loss of a loved one or social isolation, has caused many individuals to feel overwhelmed.

“They’re grieving a new life that’s taking place and I think, honestly, what I have noticed even in our organization —  a lot more individuals are stressed because either they lost their job due to COVID, they don’t know how to pay for schooling this semester, they’re not used to having an online format,” Kas-Mikha said. 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health varies per person, and the addition of online schooling has affected students differently. As Sevig pointed out, everyone is reacting in unique ways.

“There is no one way to experience this, and that also means there is no one answer that will help everybody,” Sevig said.

As a graduate student in her final semester, Kas-Mikha adds she has also had difficulty with staying motivated in her classes and remaining focused during Zoom meetings.

“I’m not kidding you, half the time me and my cohort don’t even talk because we just take that time as a break,” Kas-Mikha said. “I feel like I’m not as engaged as I was in person.” 

On the other hand, Business sophomore Dillon Hong said he has adapted fairly well to online schooling. He feels, for the most part, he is in the same mindset he was pre-pandemic. 

“I would like to say having it online makes it easier in my case,” Hong said. 

Despite being in a healthy headspace, Hong said he has felt the effects of losing out on social connections. 

“Especially being at Ross, your sophomore year is when you really get divided into your groups that you kinda stick with throughout your next two years,” Hong said. “Not being able to connect with them as much is a little bit punishing.” 

The University decided to eliminate Fall Break, a two-day gap in classes that usually takes place in mid-October, this semester to prevent students from returning back home and possibly spreading COVID-19 to their families. Kas-Mikha said the University should have kept the break to give students a breather in the middle of the semester.

“I think that break would have been really nice,” Kas-Mikha said.

Sevig, who has advocated for the gap since before the first Fall Break in 2002, said time off is extremely important for mental health, but noted the general safety of the community during the pandemic takes priority. 

“The preservation of health and safety, the preservation of life, has to win out, if you will, when faced with these decisions,” Sevig said.

While the pandemic has stoked an increase in mental health illnesses in the U.S., people have come up with new ways for others to reach out when they need help. 

Student organizations like Mental Health Matters have virtual meetings for people going through a mental health crisis or know someone who is going through one, and also have many events to address and spread awareness about mental health. On the CAPS website, there are countless resources for students to use, like scheduling an appointment or using online resources like Silvercloud, Wolverine Wellness or MiTalk

“I’ve seen a lot of support for each other, I’ve seen a lot of creative ways for wellness, and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” Sevig said. “None of us can handle this by ourselves, so let’s use what we have and maybe explore new ways of asking for help.”

Daily Staff Reporter Cynthia Huang can be reached at huangcyn@umich.edu.


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