Isolation during pandemic can lead to long-term effects on mental health of students

The coronavirus pandemic has been wrought with consequences: lockdowns, isolation and Zoom University. These factors can have the potential to significantly impact the mental health of individuals. As the pandemic continues after more than six-months in the United States, a sense of emotional and physical isolation can have a host of consequences, some of which are long-term.

“We live in a culture already fraught with anxiety and depression,” Douglas Anderson, the director of clinical services at Sioux Falls Psychological Services, said. “Add any significant stressor to that, and you will see an impact on the rate of depression.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that mental health conditions can be worsened by the ever-evolving ramifications of the coronavirus. Coupled with this, the physical distancing measures people are encouraged to take can mean higher occurrences of symptoms of depression, which can have significant impacts on physical health.

“A study that I’ve cited multiple times in my classes looked at what the psychological factors are that affect our life expectancy,” psychology professor Benjamin Jeppsen said. “And having a weak social support network, meaning, not having a lot of people in your life to help support you, has the equivalent effect on your life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”

Because of this, students need to find the balance between safety and social connections, something which schools across America are continuing to navigate.

Finding a balance in maintaining a sense of hope and a sense of structure is also important. Jeppsen suggested creating a schedule, even on days when students have fewer work or school obligations. He also emphasized the importance of being intentional with a schedule, allowing room for fun as well as work and study.

Anderson said a main way to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus is to find new normals, as opposed to seeking the normalcy that was present before the pandemic. Along with this, Anderson suggested only looking at factual and objective sources when investigating information about the coronavirus.

Jeppsen noted that it is important to maintain a sense of structure as opposed to leniency. He cited a technique commonly used for patients with depression: behavioral activation. Rather than having little structure, behavioral activation encourages patients to “get up and do things.”

Finally, Jeppsen encouraged students to have the courage to reach out to friends or peers who might be struggling. 

“One of the biggest, most dangerous lies that people believe is being afraid of offending someone by reaching out to them,” he said. “If we are feeling symptoms of COVID, we go and get tested because it’s life-threatening. Depression is the same thing.”

Augustana students are encouraged to contact Sioux Falls Psychological Services if they are feeling overwhelmed or are struggling during this time. The facility is found across the street from the Mikkelsen Library, in the lower part of the Sioux Falls Seminary building, and Zoom telehealth therapy is available. The phone number is (605) 334-2696 and sessions are free to Augustana students.

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