‘A Grizzly’s Guide to a Healthier Y(OU)’: COVID-19 and Mental Health

Campus+Editor+and+Columnist%2C+Gabrielle+Abdelmessih.

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Abdelmessih

Campus Editor and Columnist, Gabrielle Abdelmessih.

Gabrielle Abdelmessih, Campus Editor

For almost two years, COVID-19 has had significant effects on mental health. The lack of social interaction, increase in economic hardship, fear of becoming sick and the fact that millions of people have died due to this virus, among other changes, have been difficult to handle, to say the least.

Several studies have found that the mental health of college students has declined as a result of the pandemic and has negatively impacted higher education. In a nationwide survey led by researchers at Boston University, two-thirds of college students said they deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes Oct. 10 as “World Mental Health Day” to raise awareness about mental health and mental health support and resources. So, for this week’s column, I spoke to Dr. David Schwartz (Ph.D.), a licensed psychologist and director of the OU Counseling Center (OUCC), about mental health and what resources are available on campus.

“During the pandemic, 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder. This is up from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms from the time period of January to June of 2019, so right before the pandemic,” Dr. Schwartz said. “What’s interesting is that if you look at depression, anxiety, substance use, eating issues and many more, the group that has seen the highest increase in all of these things is young adults, 18-24-year-olds.”

With increases across the board in many mental health situations, Dr. Schwartz stressed that these issues have continued at this phase in the pandemic, with anxiety and depression being prevalent. He also mentioned that people may struggle with hybrid learning, workloads, re-entering social situations, among other factors that can influence our mental health. To adjust to current life, Dr. Schwartz underscored the importance of expectations and to recognize that functioning pre-pandemic is a very different experience than today.

“It’s really important to adjust our expectations to meet the reality of the situation,” Dr. Schwartz said. “If we fail to adjust those expectations, we’re constantly going to be feeling like we’re failing or we’re behind, and we’re not able to do as much…it’s allowing yourself to adjust, to ease back in, not expecting yourself to be at pre-pandemic levels in terms of productivity and how successful you are as a student, as a worker and as a family member or friend.”

Dr. Schwartz also acknowledged mental health and healthcare disparities that exist in specific populations.

“The pandemic has not affected every group equally. There are certain groups that have been disparately impacted negatively much more than other groups,” Dr. Schwartz noted. “Unfortunately, they happen to be groups that were already marginalized and had more barriers to good access to mental health and healthcare. People in the BIPOC community, LBTQ+ community…those groups we have seen even more of an increase of things like depression and anxiety.”

In terms of measures one can take to improve their mental health, Dr. Schwartz highlighted getting professional care, allowing social grace to ourselves and others, and making a commitment to self-care

“If you’re even toying with the idea of it [getting professional help], reach out,” Dr. Schawrtz said.

It is important to point out that the OUCC is offering free therapy sessions for the 2021-2022 academic year, among other mental health resources, like support groups.

For more information regarding OUCC therapy sessions and other resources, please visit the OUCC website.