It’s not uncommon to experience high levels of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With rising job insecurity, a transfer to online courses and increased safety concerns, students are dealing with a variety of challenges and are trying to cope in their own ways.
Wayne State sophomore Melsi Bezhani, who worked at English Gardens as a loader and the YMCA as a lifestyle coach, said he lost both jobs due to the pandemic.
“Being a student is already stressful with things not really being finalized or solidified yet in terms of your career and finances, but this pandemic definitely adds to it and postpones any plans people had,” Bezhani said.
WSU sophomore Angeley Takyi said she already tends to stress over things she can’t control, and it has gotten worse during this time.
“Being in quarantine hasn’t helped. I’m constantly just sitting here with my thoughts,” she said. “But I’ve been trying to find ways to relieve my mind.”
Providing mental health support to those directly and indirectly affected by the pandemic is important, Professor Jonathan Stillo said, an infectious disease expert and medical anthropologist.
For over 10 years, Stillo has researched infectious disease and their economic and social effects, with a focus on tuberculosis.
Trauma from infectious disease impacts patients and their families, but also healthcare workers, Stillo said.
“In terms of the trauma that people are dealing with, this is going to be something that lasts for a long time,” he said. “It is something that we’ve seen in (the) tuberculosis space — where people are dying unnecessarily. That ripples outward. It is not just the person who is dying, or their family but it is also the healthcare professionals who are facing that (trauma) and that stays with them. It is something I have seen personally.”
Bezhani said staying active helps him relieve stress, but now it’s difficult for him to exercise as much since gyms are closed due to Michigan’s stay-at-home order.
Gyms, salons and movie theatres in much of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula can reopen beginning June 10, according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order signed on June 5. While salons and barbershops can reopen statewide on June 15, gyms and movie theaters will remain closed in the Detroit area and other regions of the state.
“I have some equipment in my garage, so that kind of helps. I try to go on my bike as well, or go for walks. You just have to get out of the house sometimes,” Bezhani said.
Stillo said clinicians, academics and students, among others, need to give themselves permission to not be at their best during this time.
“I think it is really important to remind each other that things aren’t supposed to be okay right now… you shouldn’t be expected to be at your peak of productivity,” he said. “This is something I’ve been telling my students since the lockdown happened — that these are abnormal conditions and it's hard just existing.”
Bezhani said he didn’t foresee the changes brought by the pandemic.
“Things are even more unpredictable now,” he said.
On May 5, WSU’s chapter for Partners in Health Engage hosted a webinar, with over 50 participants, about mental health and COVID-19.
According to their website, PIH Engage is an organization that is “building the right to health movement by recruiting and empowering teams of dedicated volunteer community organizers” across 10 countries.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers are focusing on international guidance and existing services to “tap into what is already there,” Sarah Coleman said, program officer for the Cross-Site Mental Health Team at PIH.
“A lot of what we’ve been doing is trying to adapt our services… to make them more remote,” she said. “For example, we had a call this morning with our colleagues across the sites to talk about how you can transition to phone-based care, and what guidelines can be considered when working in places that have very low internet bandwidth and things like that.”
Takyi said she’s been practicing meditation, along with poetry and sports to distract herself from overthinking.
“It’s really hard and I know it’s going to take time, but I’m going to keep trying,” she said.
A variety of mental health services are available to assist with COVID-19 induced anxieties. WSU Counseling and Psychological Services is also providing virtual mental health services to students during this time.
Nour Rahal is a contributing writer for The South End. Rahal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo by Jonathan Deschaine, multimedia editor for The South End. He can be reached at email@example.com.