As the world continues to battle the day to day issues of the coronavirus pandemic, one aspect is the increasing problem of mental health for students. As schools have closed down and had suddenly transitioned to online classes, depression and anxiety have overcome many individuals.

Students with pre-existing mental health problems such as general anxiety disorder (GAD) or depression have become more vulnerable due to lockdown policies. More than the lack of social contact and activities, the dramatic disruption of routines, loss of part-time jobs, and the burden of online classes, have added a negative aspect to their conditions.

Dr. Joyce Lee, a psychologist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, analyzed the effect of 90% enrolled students losing an education because of the pandemic had on their mental state. General Audrey Azoulay, the director of UNESCO, calls this educational disruption unparalleled. Moreover, graduating seniors would most likely have to renavigate their career towards the online job market, which remains highly competitive, while coping up with their final year of university.

YoungM inds, a mental health charity, conducted a survey including 2,111 individuals with a history of mental illness in the UK. 83% said that their conditions have gotten worse due to the pandemic while 26% of them have been unable to access mental health support and attend support groups while phone calls or online meetings prove to be quite challenging.

Zanonia Chiu, a psychologist from Hong Kong, said that although students with depression had struggled to go to school before the pandemic, at least they had the daily routines to keep. 'Now that schools are closed, some lock themselves up inside their rooms for weeks, refusing to take showers, eat, or leave their beds. For some children with depression, there will be considerable difficulties adjusting back to normal life when school resumes.'

Overwhelming Anxiety

Ali Gold, a college student who participated in a Boston mental health challenge called 'This Is My Brave,' shared with her audience at Tufts University about her history of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar and eating disorders when she was younger. She also shared her history of cutting herself and eventually a suicide attempt by overdosing on prescription pills.

'I wanted to escape the endless cycle of shame, guilt, feeling like a burden. Inside my mind, I had convinced myself that everyone would be happier without me,' she shared.

Eventually, she went through therapy, gained a better perspective at life, and graduated from Boston University this month with a degree in health science and psychology. However, the pandemic put a sudden halt to her final classes, transitioning online, while canceling her internship at the psychiatric hospital where she once was a patient.

For Mercy Eme, diagnosed with GAD last year, her anxiety has been overwhelming as she is balancing her online classes as a 2nd year molecular, cell, and developmental biology student, while taking care of her family. She is her family's caretaker, who 'is extra concerned for [Eme] this quarter because they know [how] easily she can let [her] anxiety overwhelm [her].' What makes her lost sleep some nights is the overwhelming fear over her grandmother's health who lives nearby and remains quite vulnerable to the virus.

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Mental Health Services

Ali shared that 'The lack of social connection has really influenced my anxiety. I just think, day-to-day, it's a bit higher,' she shared. With structure almost gone, she had realized how fueled she by in-person connections, especially therapy sessions where she thinks that body language plays an important role.

Sarah Lipson, an assistant professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, 'We need to be telling students that we care about them - that we see them... every opportunity for prevention of mental health problems requires being proactive.' However, colleges are still in the process of figuring out how to help students online with mental health services as advocates recommend that they provide 'clear, empathetic communication about where students struggling with mental health.'

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