What does mental health look like after COVID?

OSWEGO, NY- Mental health has become a growing concern, especially following the events of the pandemic. Anxiety, depression, and substance abuse already have been some of the top disorders in the United States and now rates continue to rise.

Although many people want to move forward onto life without COVID, when an event of this magnitude impacts the whole world, it is bound to have lasting effects. The 2022 revision of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders added a new mental disorder regarding prolonged grief to adapt to our current climate.

Karen Wolford, a psychology professor and coordinator for the interdisciplinary trauma studies advanced certificate program at SUNY Oswego, said trauma can have a variety of effects on people.

“If there is a continuum of trauma, like anything else, you could have a one-time catastrophic event (or) life-threatening event… that can leave a lot of anxiety and memories of the trauma that in the majority of people will dissipate over time, but in about 6.8-7.8 (percent) of the population they’ll actually develop PTSD.”

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition in which a person has a hard time recovering from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. When they are triggered by memories from that event, that can cause intense emotional and/or physical reactions. COVID has affected people who already struggle with PTSD and even others who don’t have the disorder, are still experiencing similar symptoms.

“I don’t know if I’d say I have PTSD, but it was triggering to be on campus again after COVID. I had to go back to doing online school, at home, even after full in-person classes started again. It was just too overwhelming, and I found myself slipping back into my depression when I was there,” said Jillian Berge, health and wellness major at SUNY Oswego.

This has not only been a problem for college students, but for students everywhere.

“And that’s why a lot of the K-12 kids were struggling because they lost all that connectedness with their outside structure, their outside clubs, and activities. That was all stripped away from them, and then they had the schoolwork going. It was like you know kind of unbalanced,” said Wolford.

And finding that balance again has been a problem for many. Wolford found that her students and faculty members struggled a lot with exhaustion after quarantine. The pandemic, or any chronic stressor, can take a toll on people and heavily impact energy and motivation.

“During COVID, I would just want to sleep all day. I was not motivated. I didn’t want to do any of my homework, and I would either binge eat or not eat at all,” said Berge. “It’s still hard for me now to get back into things and find that motivation.”

Even with mental health still looming on many people’s minds as they try to recover from the pandemic, there are still ways to find joy and healing.

“I think when I felt the worst… I would listen to music or watch a comfort show. Also, talking to other people you trust can be really helpful. When you get into such a dark state of mind, it can be easy to feel like no one else understands or that you’re the only one going through this, but that’s not true,” said Berge.

SUNY Oswego offers counseling services at its Mary Walker Health Center. There, students can schedule an appointment and get matched with a counselor that will fit their needs. Reminding people to seek support and counseling is something Wolford is very passionate about.

“Don’t be afraid to seek it. It’s going to become more common practice. It already is more common practice for people to be involved in counseling,” said Wolford. “You know over the years I’ve noticed people talk more freely about it so that’s good; whereas in the older generations it was more stigmatized, but we still need to educate a lot of people to get rid of the stigma so people can feel good about going there just like they go to the doctor.”

“At the end of the day it’s all about checking in with yourself and if you are having a bad day that’s ok,” said Berge. “You just have to remember that your feelings are valid, and you don’t need to beat yourself up about it.”

For information on counseling services at SUNY Oswego, visit their website.