Maya Rosenberg is a rising junior journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 created a new mental health challenge. Here’s what UMD can do to help fix it.
The Shoemaker Building is home to the University of Maryland's Counseling Center. (File photo)
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When COVID-19 turned March into an indefinite, stay-at-home lockdown, I was determined to put the abundance of free time I now found myself with to good use. I mean, if I didn’t use this time to improve myself, wouldn’t that just be lazy and embarrassing? I pledged to read more, work out consistently and practice another language so that by the time the coronavirus pandemic was “over,” I would be a better, more accomplished version of myself.
Five months later, and things haven’t really gone according to plan. My emotional well-being went down the drain: I had an emotional breakup, lost my motivation to exercise and experienced unprecedented anxiety about socializing and maintaining friendships. Like many others, I had unanticipated issues with my mental health from all of the changes and uncertainties brought by the pandemic.
Quarantine and isolation can result in an increased sense of uncertainty, anxiety and irritability, as well as “poor concentration” and “deteriorating work performance.” Combine these negative changes with a shift in environment (moving back to campus) and schedule (classes starting again), and it’s no surprise that students’ mental health will need some extra support in the coming weeks.
As the University of Maryland welcomes students back to the campus, it needs to be mindful that students’ mental health won’t be in the same place it was before the pandemic. This university needs to make its pandemic-specific mental health resources more visible and address the stressors that the situation has had on students’ mental health with services students can rely on whether or not they choose to return to campus.
The Counseling Center has provided some resources on its website for dealing with coronavirus-related stressors, but the information has yet to be widely distributed in the same way the university has shared its reopening plan, “4Maryland.” The university’s first objective under this plan is to “prioritize the health and safety of every member of the university community” upon return to the campus. Its health and safety guidelines solely emphasize the importance of physical health and cleanliness to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, there’s no mention of how to protect students’ emotional well-being.
And pre-pandemic, it was often difficult to schedule an appointment at the Counseling Center. Counselors could be booked for months, leaving students without timely access to the center’s resources. This was problematic during “normal” semesters. Now, with increased mental health concerns from months of isolation, demand for counseling services could increase even more.
This university releases update after update for its plan to ensure students follow guidelines to protect their physical health from COVID-19. Although the plans for the fall semester have been changing frequently, students are kept up-to-date by the university’s messaging. However, a healthy student body goes beyond physical well-being. Without an advertising campaign informing students about concrete resources to fight against COVID-19’s mental health challenges, this university isn’t looking after its students’ health in the most holistic way possible.