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EDITORIAL: Mental health is faltering amid pandemic

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The expectation that students and workers alike will continue their respective workloads amid this pandemic is unrealistic on behalf of the institutions that assign us our work.

While the physical ailments caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic are most evident to us, the mental health detriments of both the illness itself and the societal restrictions imposed to combat it are ugly themselves, and combating them proves difficult.

College students who have been abruptly ripped from their routines are ripe for mental difficulties at this juncture, and we are all feeling the pain.

Our routines have been completely upended within a matter of weeks. Only a month ago, though it feels much further back than that, we were still at college, going to our scheduled classes and doing everything else that we occupied ourselves with at Rutgers. 

In a matter of days, we were suddenly thrust into digital learning, and for most students, that is at home. The minutiae of our routines, from when we wake up, to where we sleep to what and when we eat were warped completely. Those minor differences are enough to destabilize mental health — it is our routines, after all, that we use to keep us stable. 

Professors also are not guaranteed to understand the gravity of the situation. While many are accommodating and aware of their students’ struggle at this time, some do not understand that being trapped at home is not equivalent to being available all the time. We have other responsibilities, such as work and internships. Some professors ignore this and assign further work, extend class and otherwise try to unjustly monopolize our time.

Our academic futures are also in limbo. Students are wondering how credits will be distributed, the implications of the adjusted grading system and whether college will actually return in the fall. All of these uncertainties can weigh heavily on the mental health of students, especially with all the instability that is happening in the broader world around us.

While it may not be the first thing on everyone’s minds, the faltering economy is assuredly a source of stress for us, especially upperclassmen who are about to enter the workforce — or attempt to — for the first time. How are they supposed to pay off their loans if nobody’s hiring? That, combined with the general COVID-19-induced fears of the future, is a definitive source of anxiety.

Being physically trapped inside is another source of poor mental health. The great outdoors is a good place to clear your head, get some fresh air and take your mind off of your stresses. With the limitations placed on traveling, we are pinned inside with no real escape. 

And while inside, we are forced to engage and participate in familial responsibilities that we did not have to deal with while physically at college. Some families may not understand that students are still extraordinarily busy, and those excess tasks clutter the mind and simply give us more to think about.

For a lot of students and young people in general, socializing and friendship is a way to escape the pressing stresses of life. Now we cannot even do that, with social distancing being the expectation. We cannot physically spend time with our friends, which is a stress reliever, and we cannot physically talk to our friends about our issues. There is a vicious cycle of loneliness and disconnect being perpetrated by this pandemic.

Additionally, the typical issue of social media has only been exacerbated by this pandemic. In normal times, social media proves to be a source of anxiety, as most people use it as a “highlight reel” to display their best moments. This makes those who are predisposed to low self-esteem feel even worse about themselves.

Now, we deal with that to a greater extent. While most of us struggle to balance everything going on in the world, others are taking to social media to show everyone just how productive, proactive and amazing they are. For those of us with low self-esteem, this further increases feelings of inadequacy. 

To top it all off, we have to deal with the fear and anxiety corresponding to the illness itself. The vast majority of us have elderly family members and aging parents that are more susceptible to COVID-19. New Jersey, where most Rutgers students live, is a major center of the outbreak. We are vulnerable, and we are aware of that fact.

These issues are here to stay with us as long as COVID-19 does. There is hope, though. We can mitigate these impacts and do what we can to help each other through this.

There are other simple things we can all practice as well, if you feel they may help you. Reaching out to friends and checking in is a good start. This will make them open up and feel comfortable talking to you about what they are going through, which will enable you to talk about your own thoughts.

If it is proving to be a problem for you, avoiding social media, while difficult, can take a load off of your mind.

Getting fresh air, though it may sound unimportant, can also help take your mind off things. The outdoors is a great place to take a mental and physical breather. Just doing work outside can go a long way.

Rutgers also continues to provide mental health support during this crisis, and if you feel the need to use those services, do not hesitate. 

But, the main source of our stresses during this time, as mentioned before, are the institutions that expect us to be productive to their advantage. Colleges, workplaces and other brokers of work have to be accommodating to their students and workers during these turbulent times and be aware of the disadvantage that this pandemic is putting on us.

It is okay to feel this way. We are all facing difficulties due to this pandemic, but it will be over eventually, and we will appreciate things we took for granted much more than before.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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