Student Experiences During a Pandemic

Lena Schneck, NMHIC Intern

I vividly remember the wild 24 hours from when I received the email that I would spend the rest of my spring semester of college at home, to the moment I stepped off my plane and greeted my family. I had just finished hosting my radio show and was sitting with a few of my friends when I read the email. It was somewhat apocalyptic: as I walked to my dorm, everyone was on their phone, talking to their parents, crying, and hugging. The next 18 hours were filled with prepping for midterms, saying goodbye, and trying to pack up my college life in one small duffel bag, all while trying to squeeze in the social (okay partying) aspects of my college experience.

While virtually every person has been affected by the pandemic, students have suffered an exceptionally great deal of uncertainty, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and instability. Personally, the effects of remote learning, social isolation, and the general uncertainty surrounding my education, social, and professional life have caused my mental health to deteriorate. While I have long suffered from anxiety, the current conditions of the world make it unclear for me, and my peers, to accurately label what we are feeling as I can never tell if our emotions are contextual or long-term. 

Perhaps the most tolling mental health effects that the pandemic created is a sense of chronic stress, anxiety, and general distrust in the nation. This paranoid and pessimistic mindset, paired with the lack of structure and routine, can be detrimental to the emotional, social, and intellectual growth of adolescents. The anxiety produced from the pandemic manifests in a variety of mindsets: socially, academically, and personally. In an attempt to understand the perspectives of my peers and their own struggles, I interviewed several of my adolescent co-workers.

Zach, a rising junior at the University of Washington, notes that the pandemic has made him “…more socially anxious. Even when you are with your family, quarantine can feel so lonely.” Teal, a rising senior at Cherry Creek High School, is most anxious for “…the college process and getting to visit campuses, scheduling interviews, and making the important decision.” Personally, I am concerned with what my fall semester will look like and am frustrated, yet sympathetic, with the general lack of freedom that inevitably comes with reopening the school systems. In my interpretation, the overall uncertainty surrounding student lives undermines a sense of routine and, thus, hinders independence, self-awareness, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Therefore, both adolescents and adults must try to maintain a semblance of physical, mental, and emotional stability through mindful conversations, motivated actions, and an open mindset. 

I have struggled with acknowledging my own loss in this pandemic while also recognizing that many other students are struggling at greater lengths: international students, students with fewer resources, etc. I was fortunate enough to fly home from my school – whereas I know several students who had to stay on an empty campus because they live abroad. I also recognize that I will hopefully have the opportunity to return to campus, whereas graduating seniors had to process and leave 4 years of college in just a few hours. I can’t seem to find a balance between “all students are in the same boat” and trying to empathize with the students who have suffered a much greater loss than I have. I also plan to return to school in the fall for a “mixed learning” plan (some online and in-person classes), whereas some of my friends are having to transfer schools or take a gap year. Increasingly, I acknowledge the colossal difficulties that come from communities who cannot quarantine due to economic, personal, or financial reasons. My peers and I recognize our own privilege amongst the pandemic and hope to initiate conversations about how the pandemic has impacted the livelihood in all communities. 

The pandemic has impacted citizens of all ages. Rachael, a 30 year old who recently acquired her masters in social work at University of Denver, described the mental health effects of the pandemic as both positive and negative. Staying at home has “…forced [her] to slow down and reevaluate how [she] spends her time.” Similarly, Zach believes that “quarantine gives you the chance to look into yourself. In a sense, it’s pretty great that quarantine can give you the chance to appreciate yourself and what creates your identity but also what you need to work on.” Thus, while many students, and adolescents in general, may be struggling with their own sense of self amidst a chaotic nation, quarantine can provide the time and space to reflect, appreciate, and cultivate relationships, identity, and the future. 

For mental health resources and ways to communicate and express your ideas, please click the links below:

https://nyulangone.org/news/checking-your-teenagers-mood-during-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Teens-and-COVID-19.aspx

https://nytimes.com/2020/05/25/arts/design/museums-covid-19-collecting.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/learning/how-will-we-remember-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/07/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-humor-in-tough-times-expectations-for-summer-2020-and-apologies.html

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