To many students, self-quarantine and isolation mean being away from friends. Since the COVID-19’s appearance in the United States, many universities evacuated their campuses– leaving a once hot spot for gatherings, concerts and parties empty in the middle of March.
Sophomore digital cinema and filmmaking major, Elizabeth Dreitlein, faced many difficulties since Pace announced that it will go online for the rest of the semester. To her, it meant that she lost her group of friends and support system.
“COVID-19 has affected my mental health pretty drastically,” Dreitlein verbalizes the pandemic’s effects on her life. “A lot of my coping mechanisms are reliant on my being able to see people from day to day, but obviously I can’t anymore.”
Although it is important to maintain a social distance, and self-quarantine in case of exposure to COVID-19 and to prevent the spread of the virus, being lonely and away from friends all the time do not have positive consequences for mental health.
Being lonely in these difficult times is especially difficult because we are social creatures and need human connection. One of these essential connections, touch, creates a hormone called oxytocin. The lack of oxytocin could result in high levels of anxiety, stress and depression.
Speaking about the coping mechanisms which ‘has essentially been taken away’ from her, Dreitlein had to figure out how to stabilize her mental health amidst COVID-19. While physically being with friends is not possible, online platforms have come to her help.
“The past couple of weeks have definitely been filled with lots of FaceTimes and phone calls to my friends,” Dreitlein said.
There have been decreases in productivity and creativity since the outbreak forced everyone to work and study from home. To students, it is also exhausting to do all work online, meaning they have to spend more time on their computers.
Dreitlein says she has observed a ‘massive productivity loss’ for the past few weeks.
“At first, everything was sort of normal, but I slowly became a lot slower at turning work in and getting things done,” Dreitlein said.
For students who were already taking online classes, the process of adapting to full remote learning may have been easier. But for many, this was not the case.
“The distance learning that is happening now is the only option that the university was left with, given the pandemic that is happening. In order to continue learning, the university administration had to switch to online learning to continue to provide instruction without disruption for students for the remainder of this semester,” Dr. Mariesa Cruz-Tillery, senior staff psychologist at the counseling center, said.
In early March, health officials recommended staying at home to slow the spread of the virus, which we now know as self-quarantine. As easy as it sounds, the psychological effects of self-isolation may have started to emerge, especially for the ones with per-existing mental health issues. This could result in a high psychological cost.
Dreitlein says having to deal with recent symptoms she had developed right before the stay home orders were made has been the hardest thing she has to face while quarantined. She says talking to her doctor would be helpful, but it is another difficulty she has been facing.
“I’ve kind of just been sitting by myself, struggling with handling these new symptoms and it’s terrifying,” Dreitlein said.
Privacy has become another concern over COVID-19 as many students have moved out of campuses and now had to do their academic work from home, which may not be comfortable for many.
“With students now living at home, some of the struggles of remote learning are some may not have privacy to do their academic work, some are now taking care of younger siblings,” Dr. Cruz-Tillery said.
Although it has become more difficult to focus on studies during a pandemic, Dr. Cruz-Tillery suggests that maintaining a routine is important for academic success.
“It is important for students to continue to try and keep a schedule and routine so that they can continue to succeed academically,” Dr. Cruz-Tillery said.
Dreitlein may have become less productive, but the Pace faculty have shown an immense support to her in these difficult times.
“They have been really kind to me and have been reaching out to me to make sure that I am O.K.,” Dreitlein expresses her gratitude to her instructors. “It really means a lot to me when a teacher reaches out to me and is willing to help me work through any problems I’m having.”
Mental health has never been so important. With many students moved to remote learning while being self-isolated, one necessity of human nature has been forced to put away: human connection. To make sure that students are passing this stressful time sturdily, they are encouraged to reach out to the counseling center. The counseling center continues to serve students virtually and there is no disruption to its services.
Dreitlein mentions the importance of keeping touch with friends to make sure that they are mentally staying healthy.
“It is important to make sure that they are receiving the help they need,” Dreitlein said. “Even something as small as a text checking up on someone can really make a difference in someone’s mental health.”