Every college student knows October marks a period of struggle for those suffering from mental health issues because of mid-semester stress. It’s a treacherous month for students since it typically entails myriad stress-inducing experiences such as midterm exams, spring registration dates and other deadlines. The stress of a global pandemic, as well as the political instability in the U.S., is adding challenges for the mental health of college students.
COVID-19 has pushed the country into a foreboding state of uncertainty and fear, and it has forced many college students into mental health crises they are not prepared for. Furthermore, many universities are not equipped to handle the spike in students in search of immediate mental health care. It is thus critical for friends to look out for each other in these troubling times.
According to the CDC, a quarter of surveyed 18 to 24-year-olds have suffered suicidal ideation within 30 days prior to completing the survey because of the pandemic. This statistic grows even more worrying when you consider that many students will not be able to find professional mental health care due to understaffed university mental health centers. A vast majority of university mental health centers are also having to limit patients due to physical distancing protocols on campus.
With both of these issues combined, it is no wonder that such devastating statistics are coming from college students both on and off-campus. The burdens of both academic pressure and a pandemic are heavy emotional stressors weighing on the backs of millions of students nationwide.
These stressors are further exacerbated for students living in difficult home situations and for those suffering through job instability. Regardless of the circumstances, it is incredibly difficult to be a college student in America right now.
Despite the helplessness of the situation, it’s important to take a step back and realize what we can do. Even though we are living in a time where we must remain physically apart, it has never been more important to check on our friends. Although this time seems bleak, the silver lining is that it is encouraging students to get creative when it comes to caring for the mental health of themselves and their friends in ways that also prioritize safety during the pandemic.
Virtual Movie Nights
Sometimes the simplest act of reaching out can help others. Movies can be the perfect escape from reality for a friend who might need a break from the stress of the world. There are a variety of ways to host an online movie night.
Zoom offers a screen sharing option where the host can share both the screen and audio with all users in the meeting. NetflixParty also offers a viewing party stream, but it only offers a chat function, and all users must have both Google Chrome and a Netflix account.
Regardless of the platform you choose, I highly recommend making your virtual movie night as realistic as possible. My friends and I try to purchase the same snacks to make it truly feel as though we are together and having the same movie-watching experience. It may seem minuscule, but even the smallest details can create the immersive feeling of togetherness you and your friends need right now.
Virtual Mental Health Care
In efforts to combat under-staffed campus mental health facilities, many universities offer mental health groups that meet virtually to discuss mental health topics. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has created a mission to offer NAMI on Campus Clubs to provide accessible, stigma-free mental health care.
Universities are also offering student clubs meant to encourage student mental wellness initiatives. For example, my university has a student organization called ActiveMinds that meets virtually to discuss mental health care tips. Though they are not technically a support group, they operate under the initiative of destigmatizing mental illness and openly discussing mental hardships.
Universities all over the country are offering a variety of virtual mental health services to provide students with the mental health care they seek.
Reach Out To Your Friends
It sounds very simple and straightforward, but showing a friend that you are there to listen can be one of the most valuable things during an isolating time. Just offering to listen to a friend who is struggling can help them begin the mental healing process.
Validating the negative emotions a loved one is feeling is one of the most important steps to helping them properly heal during a distressing time. If you are unsure of how to address stress brought on by the pandemic, the University of Washington has created a guide to supporting and comforting a loved one.
Overall, what truly matters the most is being there for your friends and ensuring that you are a safe space for them to feel validated. Finding a way to effectively communicate that message is unique to all friendships and situations, but it is a necessary conversation when helping a friend navigate through their struggles.
It could be anything as simple as a phone call, or maybe virtually picking up a hobby together. Just being there with a friend can make all the difference when it comes to overcoming a mental health low. Though it feels as if we may never escape this hardship, there will one day be a return to normalcy. In the meantime, it is imperative that we look after each other in any way we safely can.
Being there for those you care for has never been more important than it is now — especially for those enrolled in university. Whether it be virtual watch parties, attending online support groups or just a “How are you?” text, please find time to check on your friends. It could mean more than you think.