Grace Manning ’21
We are a troubled generation. Studies show that over 90% of Gen Z adults have experienced regular bouts of stress-related depression. One could argue that even before COVID-19, we had more to worry about than generations past, if you look at the increase in school shootings and gun violence, pressure to succeed academically, the ever-growing social competition, getting into college or grad school, finding internships, etc. Maybe our stress levels mean we care more. We are concerned about the state of our planet when young people seem to be the driving force behind climate change awareness, we have lived through a particularly tumultuous election that has deeply divided our nation and we hear about gender-based violence, unrest and terrorism in a much more direct way because of technology.
And then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly we are living at home again for the first time in years, sitting in front of computer screens for ten hours a day, confined to a small radius and unable to socialize in a normal way. Our lives have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time and we are struggling to catch up to what has become reality. So, for me, there is no question that most people, if not everyone of this generation, is mentally or emotionally floundering. For the first time in my life, mental health comes up in every conversation I have with my friends, my classmates and even my acquaintances. There is a sense, in these conversations, of a desperate reaching out to people, to connect, to relate to each other, even if it is over the anxiety that has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the pandemic.
But are these concerns being addressed in a way that highlights their drastic implications? Many of my friends say they have difficulties concentrating, staying on task, completing schoolwork, getting exercise and even eating because of stress and anxiety levels. And yet the COVID-19 regulations at institutions are only getting tighter and more closely monitored. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst announced last week that due to an increase in cases, students would no longer be permitted to go for walks outside. They could get their exercise, according news sites, by walking to and from the dining hall and the testing facility twice a week. A Boston News article cites several health professionals concerned about the mental health implications on the students. Those who aren’t permitted to get fresh air or exercise will undoubtedly suffer symptoms of mental illness, anxiety and stress. Colleges across the country have similarly strict rules in place to prevent COVID-19 cases from rising which, in my experience, many students my age care deeply about, but they have very limited resources and proactive programs in place for students struggling with their mental health. This is an issue at the forefront of our minds and one that is largely ignored by the institutions we attend. We need to start treating students’ mental health in this difficult time as a priority on par with reducing COVID-19 cases on campus and not as something that we have to sacrifice in order to be a zero-case campus.