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Mental health during the pandemic: Spreading concerns and fostering awareness

By Serena Atkinson and Cindy Zhao Oct. 14, 2020

Grace Li Art

The word “upended” has practically become a cliché over the past eight months, but the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly upended several aspects of life, from the economy to academics to communication. In particular, this year has seen a rise in mental health challenges, with people constantly stressed from the precariousness of the pandemic.

According to National Public Radio, almost 25 percent of people in the U.S. are experiencing symptoms of depression, nearly triple the amount before the pandemic. The pandemic’s uncertainty has impacted the mental wellbeing of teens, as Mission Harbor Behavioral Health reported that seven out of 10 teenagers experienced mental health issues over the past few months. Factors such as stressful life events, extended home confinement, financial struggles, grief, domestic violence and increased screen time could be contributing to the increase in these issues, as stated by researcher Sélim Benjamin Guessoum. In addition to these new challenges brought by the pandemic, many were forced to adapt to online school as their school’s campus closed.

“Distance learning has definitely made me feel very disconnected from my classmates. You are hardly interacting with others and everything is reduced to a screen,” Senior Allison Wang said.

Mission Harbor Behavioral Health reported that seven out of 10 teenagers experienced mental health issues over the past few months.

However, others have found a silver lining in online education—people with anxiety no longer have to fear conversing face-to-face with teachers and peers. Additionally, the online schedule gives some students more free time to explore new hobbies or activities to help them relieve stress and maintain wellness.

“Going to school and meeting people in person made my anxiety worse. Less of this in-person interaction from online school helped maintain my mental wellbeing. My mental health also improved because I was able to spend more time doing creative things at home. Lately, I have been experimenting with different art mediums, such as gauche, collaging and poetry,” Junior Muskaan Grewal said.

Nevertheless, while several people have still faced an increase in mental health issues due to the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness states that public stigma around the topic remains a significant barrier for those seeking mental health help. A study by Angela M. Parcesepe at the University of N.C. at Chapel Hill found that those with mental illnesses are often perceived as dangerous or inferior. However, some argue that the COVID-19 pandemic may be the answer to removing this barrier. Psychiatrist Jessica Gold, assistant professor at Washington University asserts that the pandemic serves as an equalizer: to some degree, everyone is experiencing anxiety from the pandemic. The public is becoming increasingly open to issues of mental health, which can be seen on social media, where people are visibly showing more vulnerability and transparency.

Especially with the recent increase in mental health issues, schools are raising more awareness and providing more education about the topic. Some schools having gone entirely online, are providing teletherapy, a form of therapy conducted through phone or video calls, to students. Other schools have increased mental health resources: the Mountain View Voice reported that the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District moved from having on-site therapists two days a week to five who connect with students virtually.

Some schools having gone entirely online, are providing teletherapy, a form of therapy conducted through phone or video calls, to students.

As a combined effort from students and staff, the school has provided events and clubs to help students improve their mental health, even before the pandemic. Each spring, the school holds a Wellness Week where teachers can opt to replace their tutorial sessions with a relaxing activity, including nature walks, napping or meditation. In addition, clubs such as Bring Change to Mind (BC2M) focus on mental health advocacy and awareness.

As the pandemic caused schools to switch to virtual learning, San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) started to provide wellness resources through the School-Linked Services program in collaboration with the nonprofit behavioral health provider Uplift Family Services. On campus, the school also has three Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) counselors reachable both in-person and by email. SJUSD also provides a wellness form for students to request a live session with a member of their wellness team. As schools transition to virtual education, mental health and counseling services are following. While the stigma around mental health still remains an issue, it is slowly decaying.

“Knowing that people used to refuse to talk about mental health, I would argue that progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. Now, people are more open to talking about how they feel,” Freshman Nicole Mui said.


About the Contributors

Serena Atkinson

Serena is a senior and this is her third year as a staff writer. She likes the Clash, kitchen-sink drama films, and looking at birds that are in her backyard.

Cindy Zhao

Cindy Zhao is a junior and the Lifestyle editor. She likes to take pictures of anything that catches her eye and occasionally publishes bad writing on her blog. Junior year is terrifying for her; all she wants to do is read all day. She is also severely sleep deprived. Beware.

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