Did COVID accelerate the mental health crisis for students?
By Sam Rohrs
Three years ago, students went home for what seemed to be an extended spring break, but they ended up not coming back to campus until the next school year.
Students were stuck at home with no social interaction, online learning, and no sports.
Jodi Firsdon, director of counseling at the University of Findlay, said that during COVID many other things were also happening in the world at the same time, which influenced how people coped.
“Isolation, increased fear, world events, financial issues, and many other things impacted people all at the same time,” Firsdon said. “It challenged how people had always done things and how they were able to cope with things.”
Students didn’t only lose their “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, but they also were impacted by what was happening around the world.
When students were allowed to return to campus, things were not the same as they were before.
Eric Wymer, the head cross country coach and assistant track coach at the University of Findlay said he thinks COVID affected student-athletes more than non-athletes because of the extra accountability that athletes had.
“We had to test, social distance, and break into training teams,” Wymer said. “Non-athletes weren’t held to the standard of testing or wearing a mask. Athletes were.”
Since students were stuck at home with no social interaction for so long, they started communicating differently.
“Kids communicate differently now, they struggle with social interaction,” Wymer said. “COVID caused people to be more introverted.”
Matthew Ginter, the University of Findlay’s campus ministry pastor said that he thinks COVID accelerated the mental health crisis.
“We’re designed to be in community,” Ginter said. “Deprived of the opportunity to be together, people were bound to struggle.”
With so many impactful world events in such a short amount of time, students struggled more than ever, but historically, there is a stigma about getting help. It is getting more and more common to ask for help, though, as time goes on.
“I’ve seen students decline help for a variety of reasons,” Ginter said. “Ranging from shame, guilt, hesitation, uncertainty, anger, frustration, and everything in between. Asking for help always costs something… whatever one’s heart motivation, the upside of receiving love and guidance is worth overcoming the obstacles in the way of getting help.”
“Sometimes people struggle to ask for help because they see that as being weak or feel like they should be able to handle things on their own,” Firsdon said. “It requires being vulnerable. Sometimes people have tried to get help but others have blown it off or not believed them.”
“Most students wait until the need is severe to pursue help,” Ginter said. “It would be so much better for so many to reach out before things hit a crisis level.”
Since COVID started, more and more people are on social media, according to an article on the National Institutes of Health website, Media Use Before, During and After COVID-19 Lockdown.
“Patients showed a significant increase in media time during the lockdown and a moderate increase in the negative impact of media use on everyday life,” according to the article.
“Kids are always on social media which impacts them negatively. Kids, especially athletes, compare themselves with others and self-reflect which does lead to mental health issues,” Wymer said. “Many people aren’t dealing with it well.”
“Digital interaction simply doesn’t substitute for real life interpersonal interactions,” Ginter said. “Having so much of our lives relegated to Zoom and FaceTime during the pandemic did not positively contribute to mental health, to say the least.”
Mental health is huge in a person’s overall health. If a person isn’t doing well mentally, it will most likely affect how they are doing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“If your mental health isn’t in order, not prioritized, you can’t do anything successfully,” Wymer said.
As COVID is, hopefully, dying down, students are back to campus and back into classes as normal, but are students’ mental health back to “normal?”
“The need for mental health counseling has been consistently rising,” Firsdon said. “We are doing better with talking about mental health and reducing stigma, which increases help-seeking behaviors. Since COVID, the issues that were already present have been compounded.”
“I feel like things are getting a little back to normal now,” Wymer said. “Everyone had high stress and anxiety then, they weren’t as happy as they were before COVID. There are still struggles, though.”