As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the country, thousands of college students have evacuated home prematurely, been forced to rush goodbyes to friends and taken out of their carefully cultivated routines centered around classroom learning. For many students, the change has the potential to spur a rapid and powerful downturn in mental wellbeing.
Nationwide, uncertainty catalyzes feelings of anxiety and depression, and social distancing deprives students of the precious and constant human contact to which they were previously accustomed.
“The biggest issue has been the isolation. I’ve lived in a suite for two years so I’ve grown accustomed to always having other people around but at home I’m alone,” sophomore Kyla Waring said.
Students are suddenly without a crucial piece of their college experience: a support network. Colgate has begun to adjust services so students can maintain contact with mental health professionals. The Counseling Center announced on their website that they are shifting to HIPPA-protected Zoom services, ensuring both continued confidentiality and routine services for those who utilized them at Colgate or seek them out now.
“I’m in a counseling group and those services are continuing. The counseling center and the members of my group were very comforting during the semester of Colgate, so I’m happy that there is some bit of normalcy in my school week,” senior Katie Weber said of her experience with the remote counseling services.
In the time of social distancing, services like FaceTime, Snapchat, Houseparty and Zoom mean that distance from friends does not equate to isolation, and sophomore Clare McCormack said that keeping digitally in contact with her friends has been really important in maintaining her mental health as an extrovert in isolation.
“I have discovered that FaceTime is my friend. There have been days where I do not feel so alone because I am essentially on a constant stream of FaceTime calls,” McCormack said.
Shaw Wellness has also provided students with a number of self-care tips via their Instagram. Suggestions range from maintaining a regular sleep schedule, taking time for oneself to eating healthily and regularly as well as getting outside. Staying active while social distancing is crucial, whether that is taking the dog for a walk, going for a run, or like McCormack, using the time to learn a new skill.
“My little sister is a rower and I played lacrosse for ten years, so we have been teaching each other our sports… It provides us with a bit of structure and keeps us active which normalizes the situation,” McCormack said.
One of the simpler ways to preserve mental health is taking time away from the news. News stations are on a 24-hour COVID-19 coverage schedule, which can quickly become overwhelming and contribute to the ever-growing sense of futility. For junior Karina Cheah, who was abruptly evacuated from her Geneva study abroad program, taking time away from the news has been paramount.
“I avoid checking the news and turned off my notifications for The New York Times. I know everything is bad, so what’s the point of seeing how bad it is? I channel my energy into working,” Cheah said.
For seniors like Weber, the decision to finish the year online means that she has to finish her Colgate experience at home. As the class of 2020 waits to hear about the status of their commencement, they mourn the loss of time with professors, senior days, formals, concerts and their final weeks as Colgate students.
“I am definitely sad over the closing of Colgate for the rest of senior year. I was so sad saying goodbye to all of my friends too soon and I don’t think it will fully hit me that I am missing out on a lot of these activities until the time comes around,” Weber said.
Finding closure and ways to process the grief is crucial. For Weber, remembering that she is not alone in her grief has helped ease the pain.
“I am hopeful that we will get some closure all together as a class…I just remind myself that everyone is hurting and losing a lot at this time. A time will come when this all ends and we can celebrate. It’s not quite closure, but it gives me solace,” Weber said.
Though scattered all over the world right now, the communities built on campus remain strong and will endure as the pandemic runs its course.