COVID-19 takes toll on students’ mental health

Lauren Antoniolli, Courier Staff

COVID19 has created tremendous change in the everyday lives of college students. From online classes to Zoom meetings to virtual social events, time that was once spent surrounded by friends is now spent six feet apart or interacting via the computer. This has caused a challenging transition for people in all demographics, but particularly for college students due to the social nature of the“college experience.”

According to WIU junior Music Education student Lucy Rieke, “We’re so isolated, and we’ve lost our outlets. Sometimes it feels like we have no one to turn to.” One cause of this isolation is the loss of availability of group gathering spaces at WIU. While students once gathered in large groups in the student union, dining centers and other areas on campus, students now must eat alone in their dorm rooms. Another issue is the change in creative outlets for music students like Rieke. Students used to perform in large group ensembles for full audiences in the College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall, which seats over 400 guests. Now, all performances are recorded via video stream with no live audience, which changes both the creative process and the experience of performing for these students.

Because of the many life changes that have resulted from COVID-19, students have found new ways to connect with one another and stay entertained. According to WIU freshman Payton Anthony, “If it weren’t for the invention of social media and the widespread availability of entertainment, I would be in a much worse place.” Access to social media, YouTube, streaming services such as Netflix, online games and other forms of entertainment has been very beneficial to the mental health of students like Anthony. Incoming freshmen relied on these online resources in unique ways, because many of these students did not have friends at Western prior to attending and did not meet people in the traditional on-campus student orientation over the summer. Instead, students had to meet one another via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more in order to connect with people on campus and feel connected to the Western Illinois community. While the transition to online connectivity provides difficulties for many students, it has also created a unique skill set for this generation to build relationships with people they have never met face-to-face. It has also made entertainment more accessible than ever before through a variety of virtual means, as access to music, television, learning and more is literally available at students’ fingertips.

One of the most difficult changes for students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of a typical social environment in exchange for a virtual one. According to junior Health Services Management student Maille Francis, “COVID-19 has affected my mental health by not being able to socialize and not have those in-person human interactions that are vital to a young person. Law enforcement sophomore Josephine Rios states, “Living in the dorms during the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted my mental health. I was no longer surrounded by my friends 24/7 and had to learn to be okay by myself, which was hard to get used to.” While students have adapted to many virtual environments and forms of entertainment, WIU students believe that these outlets are no true replacement for traditional face-to-face interactions.