For being in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Month, Julia Smarelli’s mental health hasn’t been great.
Smarelli, a junior studying English literature and writing, lives with a depressive disorder and anxiety.
“Being at home with quarantine and not having any routine or anything like that has been rough. It’s hard to, like, get yourself out of bed or get yourself to do anything,” Smarelli said. “A couple of times, I tried to have my boyfriend call me and make me get up, but I would just sleep through the calls or whatever. But when we were still doing school, I would eventually have to get the work done.”
Smarelli isn’t the only one who has been affected mentally by COVID-19. According to a 2019 report from the American College Health Association, 65.7% of college students said they had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, and 13.3% of students said they “seriously considered suicide.”
Things are uncertain right now and, as a result, peoples’ mental health is compromised. The Post recently talked with several students about social isolation affecting their mental health.
In direct response to COVID-19, Gov. Mike DeWine issued the first stay-at-home order for Ohio on March 24 and has extended it multiple times. Because of the order, Smarelli feels the lack of access to stores is harmful to her mental health.
“I kinda sit in my bed all day alone with whatever thoughts are going on,” Smarelli said. “But when things are open, it's nice to get out, even if you’re not shopping for anything in particular or going anywhere in particular. It's just nice to know that you don't have to be stuck in your house all the time.”
Christa Burton, a senior studying psychology and sociology-criminology, has similar feelings to Smarelli. Burton lives with major depressive disorder, and she’s noticed not having access to stores has been damaging to her mental health, particularly at the beginning of quarantine.
Burton said when she was struggling with her mental health, she used to walk around stores or get crafts as a way to take her mind off the stressors and anxiety.
“However, with decreased access to stores I am not able to do that,” Burton said in an email. “Fortunately, I have been forced to find new ways of coping with my stress which has led to less dependence on stores as a way to destress.”
Although she agrees that her mental health has taken a toll recently, she thinks people can use social media to help raise awareness for mental health and mental illness, especially during May.
“I think that social media is the best way to spread awareness during quarantine,” Burton said in an email. “A lot of people, including myself, use social media as an outlet and a place to express themselves. It would be awesome if people would share their mental health stories or journeys—if they are comfortable doing that. When I read about other people’s mental health journeys or stories, it reminds me that I am not alone. I am not the only one struggling and there are other people who are feeling similar ways. I believe this is especially important during this time as a lot of people are physically alone. They may just need a reminder that they are not fighting this battle alone.”
Smarelli agrees with Burton’s logic. She feels talking about mental health and mental illness is important.
“When I see people posting on social media about it, I think that's also nice because I guess it's easier to just post something you don't necessarily have to be, like, looking at someone in the eye and telling them that you're struggling,” Smarelli said. “And then, you know, other people can relate to it.”
Part of mental health is practicing coping mechanisms and mindfulness techniques. Burton said she can’t do one thing over and over because it’s not helpful.
“I have been going on lots of walks, exercising, taking drives around my community, watching shows or movies on Netflix, calling or FaceTiming my friends and family, painting or doing crafts and listening to music,” Burton said in an email. “I have always been a fan of finding DIY crafts to do because it always takes my mind off of the things I am stressing about at that time.”
Paul Castelino, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, at Ohio University, said that CPS is offering Telehealth to all OU students. The Telehealth services can include a face-to-face video chat (through Microsoft Teams) or a phone therapy session.
“CPS contacted all students who were already clients of CPS before the spring break and continued to provide services through telephone and telehealth,” Castelino said in an email. “CPS continues to offer ‘drop in’ services through telehealth. A student can call CPS and either schedule a ‘drop-in’ telehealth appointment within a day or two or ask to speak with a therapist right away.”
Castelino also said students can call the after-hours CPS lifeline.
CPS continues to provide after-hours emergency response. Students can call CPS and choose to speak with a counselor during after-hours and on weekends.
In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr. Samantha Christopher, a psychologist at CPS, recommends trying a 30-day meditation challenge. Dr. Christopher also recommends Contemplative Photography.
“While doing your normal routine, take a picture of something unexpected or random—it can be a way to practice mindfulness and slow down,” Christopher said in an email.
She also suggests maintaining a routine of mindfulness or meditation.
“For example, spending a few minutes when you wake up or go to sleep to practice. You can even set an alarm to remember to do regularly,” Christopher said in an email.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is continuing its #RealConvo campaign about mental health. A #RealConvo can be you reaching out on behalf of yourself or checking in with someone who might be struggling. The text can be as simple as “Hey, I haven’t heard from you this week. Are you OK?”
Smarelli builds on this concept by advising: “Try not to be afraid of reaching out to people … Even though you're not seeing them every day anymore, you know, they still care about you.”
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or in Ohio, text “4HOPE”. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the Lifeline Crisis Chat at www.crisischat.org.