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OSU students adapt to mental health struggles amid COVID-19

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Social distancing is starting to affect student's mental health in negative ways that psychologists are only starting to realize. 

With her head hanging low and an anxious hesitation in her voice, Oklahoma State junior Sydney Moore described her mental health during the COVID-19 semester.

“It’s like walking on broken glass,” Moore said staring out her dining room window, trying to collect her thoughts. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has some students feeling more stressed and anxious than ever. Taking classes online, wearing a mask on campus, and being socially-distanced are all changes that are having to be adjusted to. Already this semester, the OSU campus has felt direct impacts due to anxieties and depression. 

“I'm always on the edge thinking I'm going to do something wrong,” Moore said. “Constantly afraid of my mask slipping down or that I'm getting too close to someone. And now since so much time is being spent at home I’m constantly in my head because I can't just go like normal. So the longer I'm in my head and the longer I'm sitting there, it just builds up.”

Moore is not alone in feeling like this, many students do. According to a study from the University of Arkansas, researchers found that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and psychological trauma among adults in America. 

The pandemic has threatened how college students normally live. Drastic changes in social dynamics have changed the college experience, which is a daunting task of adjustment for some students.

“The pandemic is really interfering with people's abilities to connect, to create networks of new friends and to create support,”  said OSU psychology professor Dr. Leffingwell. “I think that's probably a big part. I think the main focus of college students is their academic work. And that's a challenge with whether they're in classrooms or have masks on, they’re apart from each other or they're struggling with Zoom  or online classes.”

OSU offers a variety of services on campus to help students improve their quality of life and try to mold healthier minds. University Counseling Services is composed of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, Reboot Center, Student Counseling Center and Student Disability Services. The psychology department has the Psychological Services Center, which provides services such as individual therapy, couples and family therapy, assessments for developmental disabilities, and group therapy. 

While some students may question OSU’s effectiveness of mental health awareness, Leffingwell argues that the university takes the proper steps.

“There's lots of different places on campus,” Leffingwell said. “One thing I have seen the student counseling services doing is trying to create a lot of different ways to access services. So they've got ways you can chat, they've got ways you can call, they try to create ways where people can see a person more quickly. I think that they're trying a lot of different ways to meet the demands of college students. I don't know if all of those ways are going to hold and work out, but I'm impressed by their trying a variety of flexible, different things.”

A good way to help spread awareness about mental health is by getting educated and having open conversations to help reduce the stigma that has long surrounded mental illness. 

“Several studies have shown that participation in education programs on mental illness led to improved attitudes about persons with these problems. Education programs are effective for a wide variety of participants, including college undergraduates, graduate students, adolescents, community residents, and persons with mental illness,” stated in an essay done by World Psychiatry. 

But to Moore, sitting and listening to someone is the best way to offer help.

“It's just so important for people to be willing to listen to what other people have to say and speak less and listen more,” said Moore. “When you’re struggling you don't want to talk about it. You're in this kind of hole and you don't want to get out of bed, you don't want to shower, and you don't want to be a burden to anyone or have to explain it. But I think that more aware people are of how common these things are, the more people can understand you are not alone whatsoever in any way, shape or form with anything.”