How to care for your mental health during COVID-19

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COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on students’ mental health, especially minority students. Here are some resources that can help.

Our College & COVID-19 series is part of our commitment to students and families during this time of uncertainty. Our goal with this series is to provide the resources, information, and guidance you need to help you successfully continue your college journey.

It’s apparent how taxing this past year has been on students’ mental health. But just as there are demonstrated ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there are also proven guidelines you can follow to help alleviate stress and anxiety. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three out of four Americans between ages 18 and 24 (whether in college or not) reported poor mental health related to the coronavirus pandemic, and a quarter of them said they seriously considered suicide. If you are in distress, or someone you love is, get free and confidential support with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. 

“The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but especially on those who are in transition to the college setting or trying to complete their higher education curriculum,” says Joy Himmel, a mental health expert who serves on the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 Task Force. 

“I have seen a lot of individuals who have had an increase in symptoms such as clinical depression, mood lability, poor sleep, anxiety, and panic attacks due to all of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic,” Himmel says.  

Students in minority populations hit especially hard

Though many students have experienced mental health issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, minority students have been especially vulnerable. Colleges and organizations supporting students off campus have been paying special attention to the needs of minority students during the coronavirus pandemic, and with good reason. Black Americans face a disproportionate risk of infection with COVID-19 and are particularly vulnerable to its psychological damage, experts said at one forum hosted by Harvard UniversityThese risks are heightened with the current financial crisis in the U.S. and the ongoing struggle against racial inequality, they added. 

First-generation students of any race or background, who are more likely to be responsible for childcare for a younger sibling or other family member in addition to their college courseworkface additional household burdens while taking classes remotely 

Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer also report feeling more stressed and anxious compared to heterosexual students 

And students with disabilities taking classes remotely may have their own unique set of obstaclesThey can have more of a challenge navigating virtual environments and may struggle more with maintaining the focus required to do virtual classes,” Himmel says. 

Coping with stresses related to finances

Money woes are making matters worse as well. That’s because many students’ families are struggling due to job losses because of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in less income.  

Nearly 7 million people said they canceled college plans for the fall of 2020 because their income had changed during the coronavirus pandemic and they could no longer pay, according to U.S. census data. 

“The job market for students is also strained due to COVID-19, so many students who would normally have parttime jobs have been unable to get them,” Himmel says.  

Worrying if there’s enough money for another semester only adds to that stress level. “It’s often the cause of underlying issues of poor sleep, agitation, and anxiety,” she says. 

Fortunately, legislators have recently passed policies aimed at alleviating money stress for students and their families, and there’s been growing support for federal student loan forgiveness. But to help reduce your worries now and prevent your finances from getting out of control, create and stick to a budget. Check out this college budget worksheet to get started. 

Ways to help cope with stress

 So the data confirms the struggle is real. What can students do to help themselves and their fellow classmates? Experts say learning to manage stress in a healthy way can help foster resilience in these challenging times. 

One example is taking time to quiet your mind and reflect, according to the University of California, Davis campus, which has a web page dedicated to health and wellnessYou can also find online meditation resources and apps, like Headspace and Calm, that offer free content for students and educators.   

Other ways the campus says you can foster emotional wellness include: 

  • Smiling and laughing. Sometimes humor is the best medicine.
  • Seeking or accepting help and support from others.
  • Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. 
  • Being a good listener as well when others are undergoing stress. 

Other helpful resources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has a list of recommendations for how to cope with pandemic-related stress.  

That includes getting exercise, plenty of sleep, and checking in with loved ones by phone and video chat. 

Regarding financial help, learn more about emergency help available during the coronavirus pandemic, including health coverage options, food assistance, emergency cash grants, and housing aid. 

One thing to keep in mind: It’s natural to have feelings of stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the coronavirus pandemic. But there are some good resources available to help. It could also be worth exploring the help your college can offer, as many schools and near-campus churches offer free counseling and other mental health services. 

“Many colleges and universities have very active health departments that are promoting virtual workshops, apps, and interactive websites to help students with not only education but staying connected during these challenging times,” Himmel says.  

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