Caring for mental health in a pandemic


Natalie McMillan

The upheaval in Augustana students’ and faculty’s life can be distressing to some of the community’s mental health. Despite the changes in classrooms and pushed back graduation, Augie’s community members have still found ways to manage their mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, “Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.”
Through this fear and anxiety, senior and current president of Augustana’s NAMI chapter, Courtney Baker, finds positivity in receiving closure through virtual graduation. “It would be a big struggle for me to convince myself it would be safe for me to go to my own graduation,” Baker said.
Senior Haley DeGreve, one of the founding members of Gray Matters, also finds positivity in virtual graduation. “I think it’s sad that we have to go out this way but at the same time I’m okay with virtual graduation,” DeGreve said. “I’m okay with it being moved, as long as all of us can feel recognized in some way.” 
Fear and anxiety not only affects students at this time, but also faculty.  Shelley Cooper, an assistant professor of theatre arts, explains everyone is struggling in different ways at the end of the day. 
“Some of us are living completely alone,” Cooper said.  “Some of us are taking on the role of homeschool home parent and also working a full time job. And so, my heart goes out to all those faculty members that are taking care of little ones while maintaining a full time teaching position at Augustana.” 
With all these events occuring and multiple overwhelming emotions rising up, there are concerns for community members’ mental health.
The director of counseling, William Iavarone, worries how isolation is affecting people. 
“I think that when people start to lose touch with other people, they start to kind of isolate and feel lonely,” Iavarone said. “They start to doubt themselves and start to doubt their place in the world.”
According to DeGreve, Baker and Iavarone, there are ways the community can take care of their mental health during this time.
Checking in with yourself is important in keeping track of your mental health, according to DeGreve. “If you start to feel new emotions that you normally wouldn’t feel,” DeGreve said. “I think that’s often something that you need to check in with yourself about and say ‘okay, why am I feeling these things and then what can I do to help myself?’”
“Set yourself a daily schedule, something to fall back on and to rely on because every day kind of just morphs into the other,” Baker said, explaining how distinguishing days can keep people from slipping into a depressive mood.
There are also ways the community can look out for others during this time.
Iavarone discussed how reaching out is the best way to help others, but said to remember that communication can be more difficult with social distance. The best thing for the community to do is to listen and clearly communicate with others that they are there. 
“But on the flip side of that is also… don’t feel like you’d have to respond to every single text that people send you because that’s gonna drain you,” Iavarone said, “Take care of yourself as well, just make sure you’re there for them and show them that you’re present.”
There are many opportunities in this time to explore ourselves and connect with each other. 
DeGreve explained how she picked up poetry again, as well. “Often, we keep ourselves so busy,” DeGreve said, “instead of truly addressing the things that do bother us or things that we haven’t necessarily healed  from, and I think right now we’re given the space and opportunity to do that.” 
“I do have a Zoom happy hour with some of my same-aged faculty member friends, and we kind of check in with each other” Cooper said. “And of course we all miss the classroom with our students, I mean that’s just across the board. We would much rather be at Augustana on campus, live and in the classroom.” 
And if you are struggling with your mental health, that is completely normal during this time, here  are resources to help:

  • NAMI holds virtual meetings every Monday 6-7pm until the end of the semester.

 The meeting IDIs or the Phone number is (‪US‬) ‪+1 601-963-1115‬ with PIN: ‪274 563 621#‬.  “Anyone is welcomed,” Baker said in an email.

  • Amy’s Gift Support Group is also holding virtual meetings every Wednesday 6-7pm

Their meeting is on or you can also dial in using your phone at +1 (571) 317-3122  with the access code: 846-017-093 

  • Augustana is providing tele-counseling. 

More information can be found in  How to use counseling services now and on the school’s Student Counseling Services page for mental health hotlines, screenings and self-care resources. 
Graphic by Natalie McMillan/Observer Staff