Starting college during the pandemic takes a toll on mental health

By Shannon Garrido, Opinion Editor

Moving onto campus for the first time as a freshman is daunting. Stepping out of your comfort zone while meeting new people from different backgrounds is one of the building blocks of the college experience. During a pandemic, the freshman experience is isolating and intimidating.

For first-year students living on a college campus for the first time, COVID-19 has made it especially difficult for them to transition into life away from home. From getting used to living without your friends and family from home, to the feeling of isolation that comes with quarantining, it can be difficult to differentiate the first month of freshman year to time spent in an underground bunker. 

As a freshman myself who just moved on campus this semester, I struggled to say goodbye to my friends and family while knowing they couldn’t visit or help me settle into my dorm room. It’s even more challenging knowing that making friendships this semester will be especially hard because I must always keep a safe distance to protect them and myself. 

After rushing to move everything in my dorm under two hours, I barely had enough time to say goodbye to my parents. My college move-in experience became even more disheartening once I realized I’m not going to see them for another four months.

This applies to all college students living through the coronavirus pandemic. The consensus from several studies show that COVID-19 has a direct impact on students’ mental health. The American Psychology Association found pre-COVID in 2013 that amongst all college students, 36.4 percent of them were depressed, while 41.6 percent of them suffer from anxiety. Now, with a pandemic that shut down most schools in March of last year, these numbers began to rise. According to The Jed Foundation, in October 2020, 82 percent of students reported struggling with anxiety, 68 percent with feelings of social isolation or loneliness, and 63 percent with depression. What is more troubling is that 60 percent of these students are finding fewer healthy ways to cope with stress.                      

Get This Week's News

All the big stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning 

Due to the long-lasting isolation that comes with the onerous measures on lockdown and stay-at-home orders, COVID-19 has brought negative impacts to the experience of higher education.                    

The Beacon published an article last Tuesday titled, “Students express grievances with new spring overnight travel policy”, where Brianna Maloney, a junior at Emerson, talked about how the college’s new overnight-travel policy negatively affected her mental health. 

Maloney said the policy has robbed her of the few weekends she would use to visit her family and unwind. 

“I would go visit home because I get overwhelmed easily… whenever I come home, it’s like a mental reset for me,” Maloney said.  

Social distancing measures, although necessary to stop the spread of the virus, also prevent students from engaging in day-to-day interactions that could keep them on their feet. The Economic and Social Research Council explains that social isolation has long been known as a key trigger for mental illness, and relationships with friends, family, and neighbors are beneficial to the overall mental health of individuals.                                                            

With our social lives becoming more difficult to maintain, freshman and upperclassmen alike have to consider all health repercussions when discussing new regulations for the upcoming semester—because a mental health hotline and a speech from President M. Lee  Pelton might not do the job. 

This is especially true for schools in Boston. A survey conducted by the Healthy Minds Network shows that in March, April, and May of 2020, 60 percent of students said the pandemic had made it more difficult for them to access mental health services. For me, moving to another country away from everyone and everything I have known my whole life is an experience within itself. But what’s most difficult is not having anyone to show you around and make the first few days in the city easier.   

Despite Emerson’s Spring 2021 regulations that have made adjusting to a new city or home especially difficult, it’s important to recognize that this is only temporary. In the hopes of keeping our community as safe as possible, we must adjust the ways we maintain our personal relationships.