Illustration by Dakota Cox.

COVID-19 defines society’s future mental health

The infamous legacy of COVID-19 will live on long past the day the mask comes off

Though it’s still far from over, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could last a lifetime.

All CSU campuses offer mental health services with a range of options available, included in the cost of student fees. Operations Coordinator and Staff Psychologist for HSU’s Counseling And Psychological Services program Dr. Elizabeth A. McCallion said their services are especially valuable now that students are facing additional stressors brought upon by the pandemic. Though in-person services are currently unavailable, CAPS is operating at full capacity, offering all of the regular services, virtually.

“Students come to counseling at CAPS for a range of reasons and I think it’s really important to recognize that,” McCallion said. “We are not just a support for students who are in a crisis situation, though we do provide that support as well.”

For students curious about the practice or grappling with issues of any size, CAPS provides an opportunity to uncover the answers to some of your questions. For those who decide it’s not for them, McCallion especially recommends placing emphasis on the prioritization of our emotional health.

“Getting good sleep, nutrition and physical exercise have been shown to have really positive benefits on our mental health,” McCallion said. “So, I think looking at our health behavior and our lifestyle choices can be really key to making sure that we’re taking care of our emotional health.”

Professor of Psychology Gregg Gold believes the effects of isolation will remain, to some capacity, with those who live through the pandemic.

“There will probably be some permanent mental health issues for those of us who spent a year and a half alone,” Gold said. “I don’t think you could say that’s not going to have some kind of effect on people.”

Gold said the pandemic lifestyle has generated more loneliness and frustration in his life as he battles with motivation and concentration droughts. The monotony of quarantine is largely to blame, Gold said, giving us nothing to look forward to with each day being the same as the last. The most significant factor influencing this is the deprivation of genuine, in-person human interaction.

“It’s a basic human need to be around other people, face to face,” Gold said. “We’ve evolved to crave the company of other humans because the more friends we have, the bigger our network, the more we can ask others to do things we can’t do for ourselves, the more likely we were in the very recent past to be able to survive and even today, [we’re] much more likely to be successful.”

Our time in isolation is not only damaging to our present well-being, according to Gold. Each day we spend contained inside the walls of our homes, interacting only with a familiar few and the algorithms of our social media accounts, we are being deprived of opportunities to explore new ideas.

“When you’re out in the real world, you actually run into people that might think differently than you do,” Gold said. “That tends to broaden your view.”

Though some are willing to place their own lives and those of others in immediate danger in order to go about life as usual, the majority of people are less inclined to make the sacrifice.

“If you can’t [socialize] safely it means there’s underlying tension and fear and that takes the fun out of it,” Gold said. “It’s like trying to go out and party the night before you have a major midterm, how much fun are you really gonna have?”

While millions of people lost their homes, their loved ones, and their lives to COVID-19, it can put those who’ve been more fortunate in a position where they don’t feel comfortable feeling sorry for the lesser losses they’ve suffered in their own lives, Gold said. The reality, however, is that the individual struggles we face now will be significant in our entire lives.

“It’s easier for people to become depressed,” Gold said. “If you think about it, [depression] is the reaction you would expect, given the circumstances.”

The increase in depression among American citizens is evident by the increased rates of substance abuse and suicide since the pandemic began, Gold pointed out. These reactions also come from severe anxiety surrounding financial and health insecurity. According to Gold, the two are one in the same in this country, where our physical and mental well-being are treated as commodities.

Masters Student and Associate Professor of Sociology Travis Cunha began work on his thesis around the same time COVID-19 reached the United States and explored how different countries initially navigated the pandemic, specifically in regards to business practices. Given the high volume of jobs that have moved online and are planned to remain there, Cunha is concerned for smaller communities that rely upon only a few providers for a high volume of jobs, as he expects more outsourcing of labor than ever when the pandemic has finally passed.

Cunha is curious to see what will come of all the vacant buildings left over from businesses that were forced to leave. He fears outside sources will capitalize on the opportunities and feed off the people who are in need of relief. This is especially a problem in low-income communities of color.

“It was already like that even before the pandemic. These communities aren’t getting the resources other communities are,” Cunha said. “Since the pandemic, those things have just been made a lot worse.”

According to Cunha, the most shameless offenders are the loan companies by allowing opportunities for business owners to remain open, for families to keep their homes and for students to pursue their educations. With a contract guaranteeing significant profits, loan companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“It’s not a coincidence that they’re opening places where communities have been hit the hardest,” Cunha said. “These communities need loans and grants and stuff to recover from this pandemic because they got no help during the pandemic, so I think it could be a recipe for disaster in that sense.”

Unlike the psychological trauma that will follow us out of the pandemic, the financial burden that will plague the post-pandemic society is entirely avoidable if we were to come together in solidarity, recognize the problem and create a solution.

“I would hope that after this is over, people wouldn’t dismiss the views of scientists as politically motivated when they tell them something they don’t want to hear,” Gold said. “But the incredible ability of people to completely deny reality even when it’s right in front of them is profound.”

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