By Wylie Post, Contributing Writer.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students’ mental health tremendously. September is National Suicide Awareness month. UMF has created new resources for students to access for mental health concerns as well as having several professors/admin that are always available to talk.
The mental health crisis in college students has skyrocketed since the pandemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in June 2020, over 40 percent of adults over the age of 18 reported they were struggling with mental health or substance abuse. The suicide attempt rate amongst teen girls has increased by almost 50 percent due to the pandemic, according to researchers from the CDC.
The question is why? Why are the rates so high?
Well, ever since the start of the pandemic, almost all college students have been stripped of using any social skills and experienced a sense of loneliness nobody has ever experienced before. Zoom became the new way of learning, and students had mixed feelings about it. Some are not so happy about remote learning while others found it nice to be alone and not in a physical classroom.
“I feel like everyone spent a lot more time alone than ever before and without the social aspect of it, it definitely made it worse,” UMF sophomore Sidney Belanger said while talking about remote and virtual learning.
Healthcare workers are feeling the same way. “The pandemic in itself has placed stressors on relationship building and it has created an environment for young adults to have very minimal contact,” Lisa Avery, R.N, BSN, practice in-home healthcare said. “Isolation has impacted their sense of self-value and importance, which separates them from having the true college experience.”
Many college students, especially those who just started last year, are experiencing difficulties finding locations on campus and meeting new people because of all the socialization they missed due to COVID protocols.
“They are missing out on opportunities in traditional college life because of social isolation, physical distancing, and masking,” Avery said. “The mask itself causes a separation from human expression, not to say that masking is bad, but human expression and emotions are vital to growing.”
However, UMF has allowed students access to multiple resources to help anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health struggles. SilverCloud is a new system that allows students to learn new coping mechanisms, social skill-building tools, and different self-guided programs for anxiety, depression, etc. The UMF mental health counselors are also a great resource when looking for more personalized treatment/help. Any professor you are comfortable with speaking and opening up to may also be happy to help.
When discussing resources for mental health for college students, there are multiple ways to go about it. Whether that is SilverCloud, licensed counselors, professors, or even a kind friend, these are all appropriate and healthy resources. Some students prefer different types of therapy.
“I listen to podcasts, some about mental growth. They help me have a better perspective on situations and myself,” Belanger said.
“Students need to identify a safe person they can express their feelings to. They need to identify what their safe environment is,” Avery said. “There are healthcare professionals and there are many options online for support groups, therapy, and counseling.”
No matter what you are going through, there are always people who are willing to listen and to help you in any way. With the pandemic slowly starting to fade out, even though it may not feel like it, students are still struggling. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, feel free to talk to someone and find ways that help you the best. The National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255 and the Maine Statewide Crisis Hotline is 711.
By Page Brown, Contributing Writer
UMF Senior Mckenna Brodeur chases down a ball during a soccer game against the University of Southern Maine.
University of Maine at Farmington student-athletes have returned to the field this year after a full season of Covid-related adjustments. A lack of competition and team interactions coupled with regular testing and mask-wearing took a toll on the mental health of many athletes, who traditionally pride themselves on strength and perseverance. Pushing through a tough practice or game is championed by advertisers, coaches, parents, and society as a whole. Yet, in the post-pandemic world- this narrative has shifted as student-athletes dismantle the warrior mentality and open up about mental health struggles.
The pandemic placed athletes in a vulnerable state, removed from their traditional routine. Researchers at the National Collegiate Athletic Association found that the rates of reported mental health concerns in the fall of 2020 were 1.5 to two times higher than in previous studies.
The increase in reported struggles comes as no surprise to UMF Interim Athletic Director Jamie Beaudoin. “For fifteen years they have had this routine, and COVID has interrupted their routine,” Beaudoin said. “And even though we were able to find ways for teams to practice and compete, it wasn’t what it used to be. This added to student-athletes anxiety as it isn’t what they are used to.”
UMF men’s soccer head coach Blake Hart said he’s seen noticeable shifts in team wellbeing, with players appearing unwilling to practice, nerves surrounding COVID, and poor team chemistry. “As a coach, it was hard to try and lead a team, but more so to watch players not enjoying a pivotal piece in their everyday life,” Hart said.
These struggles were also noticed by women’s soccer player McKenna Brodeur and men’s golf team member Christopher Frey, both pointing towards the lack of team interaction and loss of athletics creating sentiments of anxiety and isolation. Both athletes believe there has been an influx of mental health concerns, and that raising awareness of it and being a supportive outlet for their teammates both mentally and physically is now prioritized. “We all know how fortunate we are to play and we’re enjoying each day together,” Brodeur said.
These comments point to a shift in athletics, with coaches and players alike recognizing the importance of keeping healthy both mentally and physically in order to perform at their full potential. The change in dialogue has been encouraged at UMF. During DIII week last April, UMF athletes attended yoga classes and informational workshops about the importance of resilience and stress management. Guest speakers such as Victoria Garrick, founder of The Hidden Opponent, visited UMF last spring and spoke against the perceived weakness around mental health. Garrick discussed how the lack of visibility paints a misleading portrait on the mental well-being of athletes, an aspect she reiterated in an interview with the New York Times. “I remember Googling and not being able to find anyone or athletes who made me feel less alone.”
Her organization creates the place she was searching for through advocacy programs that argue that being mentally tough is no longer hiding behind a facade of strength, rather it lies in checking in on teammates, speaking up when one is struggling, and advocating for others to do the same. Mental health resources are becoming more readily available and accessible for athletes, granting students a space to grapple with the widespread mental health crisis.
Yet, this is just the beginning of this cultural shift, with Beaudoin using a metaphor to describe the crossing point athletics is at, stating “COVID showed us a bit more of the iceberg. As a coach, I see the tip of the iceberg, but COVID lowered the water and made it so mental health is much more open and out in front of others.” Continuing to hold these conversations and creating spaces for athletes to discuss their mental health changes the paradigm from mental weakness back to strength.