The Globe explores the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. Art by Sonali Dayal (Sonali Dayal)
The Globe explores the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. Art by Sonali Dayal

Sonali Dayal

Coping With Covid

June 2, 2021

On April 26, 2020, just a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, front line healthcare worker Dr. Lorna Breen committed suicide. She was only 49-years-old.
Prior to the pandemic, she did not have a history of mental illness. But, it’s not hard to imagine how fear, social isolation, economic insecurity, disruption of routine, loss of loved ones and more issues tied to the COVID-19 pandemic can negatively affect mental wellbeing.
Dr. Breen was one of the many people to face the mental toll of COVID-19. Not everyone’s mental health repercussions or symptoms are as severe as Dr. Breen’s, but it’s undeniable that everyone living through these unprecendented times is experiencing changes.

Social interactions with family and friends are considered crucial to most people’s mental health. However, being close to one another, shaking hands, hugging and seeing each other’s faces without a mask has become a reality we’re no longer accustomed to.
We’re not only fighting the virus but the stigma, discommunication and fear that comes with it. No one wants to be uninformed in an era where being uninformed can mean endangering yourself of loved ones. Staying up to date on new precautions and the state of the virus can save lives.
But, with information becoming increasingly easy to obtain, misinformation spreads easily and can cause anxiety and unnecessary worry.
Chief Behavioral Health Officer, Dr. Jaron Asher said, “Social media is a double edged sword. It’s because of social media and the ability to disseminate information quickly that I believe lives were saved. Without everyone knowing what was going on with the virus, we probably wouldn’t have been able to mobilize as quickly. But on the other hand, … it can also amplify misinformation, and it can be a way that people kind of exaggerate fears.”
When it comes to understanding and limiting social media use, Dr. Asher suggests a personal assessment of one’s own social media use.
“If it adds more to your life than it takes away, then there’s no need to really change anything. But if you’re getting stirred up emotionally by social media or it’s kind of taking over your life, like when [you’re] preoccupied with checking it, and it’s constantly on and you can’t unplug then I’d say it’s sort of gone overboard in your life,” he said.
When social media use comes to a point of unnecessary emotional interference it’s best to set a time limit to the amount of news and other negative media you consume.
Fear is what motivates us to practice the precautions that keep us safe. So, how do we know when we’re being too anxious?

We want anxiety to make us make us more alert and aware of risk. But sometimes, that same anxiety is to a larger degree, can become impairing.

— Dr. Jaron Asher

“Anxiety is a good alert system… it’s going overboard when it’s impairing your functioning. So, we want anxiety to make us make us more alert and aware of risk. But sometimes, that same anxiety is to a larger degree, can become impairing, and people are obsessed, preoccupied, avoiding things that they would normally do,” said Asher.
The importance of routine is ever-so necessary during a time where order seems fictitious. Having a routine is one of the best ways to find normality and motivation during this time.
Another useful coping mechanism is exercise. Physical activity is shown to have an antidepressant effect and create other positive chemical responses in your body. A 2018 study involving 1.2 million U.S. adults found that people could achieve better mental wellbeing by doing as little as two hours of exercise each week.
Being in contact with friends and family benefits everyone involved. When we’re in touch with someone, we’re able to see the signs of irregularities in mental wellness. But, how do we help and console the people most important to us through a screen?
Dr. Asher says, “Open ended questions are a great way to start. Because when we ask yes or no questions, first of all, we get yes or no answers, which aren’t very elaborated. And also we sometimes betray our own thinking.”
If you’re having interference with your ability to function daily, then it’s best to see a professional about your mental health.
Most mental healthcare professionals have started using telehealth to connect with patients. These online sessions have made therapy more accessible for many, since they don’t have to leave their homes to get support. However, slow internet connection or even lack of internet all together, and the lack of a physical connection have made telehealth more challenging.

“[My clients] don’t have to carve out time from their jobs, so timewise, it’s great. What, at least for me, I’m finding the challenges have been with telehealth is for people that have children, or essential workers, finding a safe space to really talk about how the pandemic has had a toll on their relationships. Especially if I’m dealing with dynamics with partners or they’re dealing with something in the home that they really don’t feel safe [talking] about, it’s been a challenge with that,” said St. Louis psychologist Dr. Rimiko Thomas.
Another important aspect of mental health during the pandemic is changing our view of self-care. Dr. Thomas noted that many of her clients have been actively practicing self-care and still are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.
“We [have] this one size fits all type of mentality. Get rest, get exercise, and it sounds great. It really does. But your average citizen can’t connect with that […] What happens when you can’t go outside to exercise because we’re in the middle of a pandemic or, even if you could, what does that mean for your kids that are homeschooled? I think that the government needs to do a better job of stopping this one size fits all [rhetoric], and really address what self-care looks like,” Thomas said.

I. Students

Sonali Dayal

I. Students

The COVID pandemic dramatically impacted the mental well-being of many Clayton High School students.
A staggering number of CHS students have seen a slight or dramatic decline in their overall mental well-being. Many students have cited stress, poor social life, low motivation, previous mental health issues and the grim context of this pandemic as the reason for their declining mental health.

Because of this pandemic, I have gotten a lot more anxious

— Anonymous CHS Student

“Because of this pandemic, I have gotten a lot more anxious,” said an anonymous CHS student.
She explained, “I’m not a person that is productive at home, so when I spend time on things that I feel like I shouldn’t, I would get anxious over it.”
Anxiety isn’t the only feeling that students have experienced after living through a pandemic throughout this past year.
Sometimes students can’t pinpoint their exact emotions because of this pandemic. Nevertheless, they do acknowledge that their overall mental well-being has declined.
When Kirby Miller, a sophomore at Clayton High School, was asked to describe his emotions during this crisis, he said, “Mixed feelings is the answer. In the beginning, when I found out that schools were closing, I was getting a lot of anxiety over hoping that we wouldn’t close down. But then we did and when we were learning independently by the fourth quarter, I was not having it. And learning independently? I couldn’t do that well, I just couldn’t.”
A major contributing factor to the mental health crisis among Clayton High School students is the transitions between different modes of learning. These seemingly constant transitions have negatively impacted student’s stress levels and anxiety.
Gabriel Monge, a freshman, said, “It’s hard to adapt to online learning, and I think it’s hard for teachers as well.”
This is partially due to the idea that teachers have less time to teach, and the original means they had to do this is less effective within the context of a global pandemic.
Monge explained, “I feel like some of the teachers and the school are trying to keep the original form of teaching, the form of teaching we are all used to, in a system that won’t work.”
Unfortunately, this drastic educational change has emotionally impacted many students including Monge.
He explained, “I think what makes me anxious is how the school itself wasn’t able to adapt to the hybrid schedule and that the curriculum and the school and the teachers weren’t able to adapt very well. When this happens, then everything sorts of collapses.”

NBC News

This shift to hybrid and online learning has placed a huge burden on teachers and students, and has drastically and negatively impacted their mental healths overall.
The drastic shift in the way that education is taught has negatively impacted students and their grades.
“I’ve seen many of my friends and fellow students that have had their grades drop significantly during the pandemic. So I feel like this is a big burden for both teachers and students. Focusing on studies feels very lethargic and tiring, especially for some kids that have been looking at a computer all day,” Monge said.
Some students have had made the painful decision to sacrifice their grades to preserve their mental well-being.
Many teachers have recognized this.
An anonymous student explained, “I’m very thankful for my teachers because most of them, no, all of them, in fact, are very generous with their due dates, and I can see how much they cut down [the amount of work] from previous years.”
Ultimately, this pandemic has transformed how learning can be done, demonstrating the possibly of online learning. However, this comes at the expense of good grades and mental well-being.
Humans are social creatures. Many students have expressed that their mental health is worsening, because they cannot interact with their friends as they normally could.
“I miss going out with friends and study time in the afternoon, because we used to do that in various places and now we can’t do that,” said one student.
She explains, “I feel like I definitely have lost a lot of connection with other peers because I have not been able to see them.”
Other students have also faced similar dilemmas.

It’s just hard to socialize with people because usually, I can do anything I want with them

— Kirby Miller

Miller explained that “it’s just hard to socialize with people because usually, I can do anything I want with them. But, this whole thing is changing the way I can socialize with them.”
While the ability to socialize has not been eradicated due to this public health crisis, it has been impacted in such a way that students feel as though their social life was crumbling away.
Many students have expressed their mental state in simple terms.
One student said her mental state was “an avalanche crashing down, but it always calms after that.” Other students have described their mental state as exhausted or tired, or mixed. It seems as though the majority of students at Clayton High School would somewhat agree with these statements.

This pandemic has been like an avalanche, not just for students, but for people all around the world. This pandemic has been a global crisis, that is tiring and confusing.
Despite this crisis, many students have found ways to bear the burdens of this ongoing crisis through different and unique coping mechanisms.

Miller said that “The main thing done more was play violin, because I’m in orchestra. So, I’ve been practicing more of that as an activity.”

Many other students have found ways to improve their mental health during this pandemic. A large majority of students found that exercising and just getting outside can have a positive impact on their general outlook and mood.
Other students have been hanging out with friends (socially distant), while countless others have found new passions, hobbies and creative outlets for themselves. Relaxing, procrastinating and perhaps realizing that grades don’t define them.
Students have acquired many life lessons about mental health from this pandemic.
An anonymous student said, “[Poor mental health] could really happen to anyone. If you told me last year that I would have a crash down, I would not believe that because I’ve always thought of myself as a positive person, and that I could handle everything. [I learned that] sometimes, it only takes one instance for a person to break down.”
The COVID pandemic has weakened the mental well-being of many students. But, at the same time, it has – and will – strengthen the generation of students who are the future of humanity.

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About the Photographer
Photo of Sonali Dayal
Sonali Dayal, Art Editor

Sonali Dayal is a junior and is very excited to be a part of the Globe staff this year! This year, Sonali is the Art Editor. In the past, Sonali has enjoyed writing small creative...

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