Alexandra DeMarco

Right now, the world is facing extremely difficult circumstances, and we as college students are no exception. We are in a unique position, in which the rest of our lives have not begun yet, but are instead being halted. Underclassmen are missing out on the experience of first arriving to a packed campus, dotted with thousands of new friends adorned in orange. Those of us nearing graduation are likely worried about finding a job.

College students are one of the demographics with the highest rates of mental illness and suicide, and understandably, these present extenuating circumstances have taken a toll on students’ mental health. It is extremely difficult to complete school every day when there is no end in sight to a virus that is dominating our lives, especially when the prospects of finding a well-paying job after graduation are not high. Workers in all fields across the world are facing the same conundrum: how can I go about my normal life when something larger than all of us and extremely dangerous is at play?

The social isolation has also played a significant role in harming students’ mental health. As social creatures, us humans need interaction with others; social organization was essential to the first civilizations and remains essential to this day. We’ve found creative ways to supplement that interaction, yes, but nothing can quite make up for all the acquaintances we no longer pass around campus and all of the friends we might have made this year.

Well, it won’t last forever. It may feel like there is no end in sight, but this isn’t true. Vaccines are in development, and scientists are working at an unprecedented rate to release said vaccines to the public; American states have already been tasked with the role of creating a vaccine distribution plan. Just like the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 eventually ceased, so too will COVID-19. 

That being said, it is more important now than ever to pay attention to mental health — your own and that of those around you — as well as open up the discussion around mental health, a topic that remains stigmatized despite it being an integral part of life. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to get in contact with your professors and explain the situation — remembering, of course, to approach this in a kind way, as professors haven’t had it easy recently either. Mental health is no different from physical health in the sense that it can affect your day-to-day life, and struggling with mental health is always a valid reason to step away from a project or take some time to yourself.

Similarly, it is just as important to seek professional help for mental health as it is to seek professional help for other physical ailments. Therapy is an extremely beneficial tool in addressing mental illness and has shown to be as effective as medicine designed to improve mental health, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors — although these medicines are also very valuable in regulating and treating mental illnesses. Therapy provides you with tools to address mental health struggles and understand what factors into a mental illness, such as past trauma. 

If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Oftentimes, the first step — making that initial phone call or writing that email — can be the hardest, but the rewards can be bountiful. The UT Counseling Center and Psychological Clinic are great resources to start with. They can be reached at 865-974-2196and 865-974-2161, respectively.

Additionally, keep an eye out on your friends. Right now, with our limited contact, it can be hard to know when someone is experiencing a decline in their mental health. Taking the time to just shoot someone a quick text and get the conversation going can be a fantastic way to show a friend who’s struggling that you are there to support them and listen when they are having a difficult time.

If you have a friend who is depressed or suicidal, don’t hesitate to connect them with the appropriate resources necessary to help them recover. Remember that talking with a person who is contemplating suicide about their struggles does not increase the risk that they will complete suicide. The Counseling Center has a 24/7 hotline available at (865) 974-HELP, and students who are concerned for the immediate safety of themselves or another should call 911.

Above all, let’s be here for each other during this difficult time. Community looks different this year, but there are still opportunities to find it in unusual places.

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