As we approach the two-year anniversary of the start of the global pandemic, life has begun to feel a bit like limbo for many. We’re reclaiming whatever bits of “normal” life we can while still struggling with the fear, confusion, and exhaustion that the threat of COVID-19 has caused—and it’s taking a serious toll on our mental health.
Young people, in particular, are feeling the mental health effects of the pandemic. Depressive and anxiety symptoms in youth have doubled during the pandemic, according to a recent report from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy. Youth who identify as minorities, LGBTQ+, or in low-income or immigrant communities are at higher risk of mental health effects.
“People are not feeling OK right now,” said Kristin Kushmider, PhD, assistant vice chancellor of Health, Wellness, Advocacy & Support. “The mission to help our communities has gone on so long that people are really fatigued, but they’re still expected to perform. Students are burnt out. Employees are burnt out. We’ve had to push through the semester and everyone is trying to navigate how we adjust our expectations.”
Although most stressors related to our current environment are out of our control, Kushmider recommends students, faculty, and staff struggling with mental health focus on building self-care practices and routines that ensure their basic needs are taken care of.
“Try to get enough sleep, eat well when you can, and spend time outdoors—even just a 15 – 20 minute walk each day,” Kushmider said. But Kushmider also mentions how important it is to be reasonable about personal expectations when struggling with depression or anxiety. “When we’re more stressed, we’re craving things like carbs and sugars. You don’t need to eliminate it all, just be mindful of it. Try to not make it a habit at every meal.”
Finding opportunities to unwind and connect through activities like meditation, fitness, club sports, and community involvement can also have positive effects on mental health. “YOU@CUDenver—our online wellbeing platform that students can access at any time—has helpful articles, videos, and even quizzes to help students identify key aspects where they might be struggling so they can build a holistic framework to wellness,” said Kushmider.
CU Denver students also have access to Nod, an app designed to help college students build connections and fight isolation and loneliness.
For anyone struggling with their mental health or finding it difficult to feel like themselves, the most important thing to remember is you’re not alone and help is available if you need it. “The situation just sucks. Let’s just own that,” said Kushmider. “It’s OK to need help. It’s OK to feel crappy. Students aren’t alone with this—we’re here for them, we’re supporting them.”
Faculty, staff, and trained peers are available to help struggling students get access to the resources and support they need when dealing with burnout, depression, anxiety, or other mental health crises. Students should connect with their professors, advisors, the university counseling center, or the Office of Case Management for assistance. “Lean into the conversation knowing the human on the other end is navigating their own health and wellbeing,” said Kushmider.
CU Denver students looking to support friends or peers can complete the Mental Health First Aid training to learn about risk factors and warning signs and strategies for helping in crisis and non-crisis situations.
It’s impossible to know how long the pandemic will continue or what the prolonged impacts on our mental health will be, but help is available to those who need it.
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort