Like a tsunami collapsing over the shoreline, “lockdown brain,” a COVID-induced crushing feeling of loneliness, isolation and depression, is sweeping over students across the U.S. While many individuals and organizations have been focused on physical health during this global pandemic, mental health is also suffering.
According to resources from the University of California, Berkeley, depression symptoms are at least three times higher than they were before COVID-19 hit, and a study from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found that younger populations experienced an even larger amount of mental suffering.
The CDC developed a list of ways to cope with Coronavirus induced anxiety, which includes recommendations like eating healthy, getting sleep and deep breathing. The organization also recommends breaks from the news and media, as constant exposure to virus information can be overwhelming.
Rene Monteagudo, director of the University of Miami Counseling Center, said that academic distress has increased both nationally and more locally among University of Miami students. After the national lockdown began in April 2020, he said, student mental health worsened. But recent data is pointing towards some stabilization, especially during the fall 2020 semester.
Much like the CDC, Monteagudo recommended having a set routine, eating well, getting good sleep and staying active to help students cope with “lockdown brain” feelings. Taking these steps, he said, may prevent worsening symptoms.
“As with most things, being present and grounded can help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Monteagudo said. “It has been a challenging experience, and it is quite understandable that one’s mental health would be impacted by the enormity and pervasiveness of this natural disaster. I would encourage students to talk about their thoughts and feelings with people they trust or seek professional help if it becomes a daily disruptor.”
Monteagudo also said he was impressed by the resilience of University of Miami students during the pandemic. Only seven percent of students coming to the counseling center cited COVID as a reason for their visit, he said, which is significantly less than the national average of 33%, indicating that they are utilizing counseling services.
The feeling of being isolated affected UM junior Larry Lopez, who said he no longer has the desire to go out as much as before. “Lockdown has changed things for me; it has made me more of an introvert,” said the broadcast journalism major.
Another student who experienced “lockdown brain” is sophomore Emilee LaRose, a music therapy major who was remote during the fall semester. “I’m already a bit of an anxious person,” she said. “But COVID has really exacerbated that, especially in certain areas of my life.” LaRose said she made the decision to stay home because she lacked confidence in the university’s safety protocols. “I have such a desire to hang out with my friends and I’m anxious that I’m going to lose them because I haven’t seen them,” she said. “Even being at home I didn’t go anywhere. But going to just the grocery store could almost give me a panic attack.”
Junior Emi Darquea, an international student from Ecuador, said her unique circumstances made the lockdown even harder—she hasn’t seen her friends from home in two years. “I love going out and I love making new friends,” she said. “Being away from my friends for so long has taken a toll in my overall happiness. During isolation, I was not able to go back home and I didn’t really have a lot of friends who lived near me. I felt extremely alone.”
For students feeling the effects of “lockdown brain,” the University of Miami Counseling Center is just a phone call away at 305-284-5511. Additionally, an affiliated app called WellTrack allows students to report and track their own mental health. Whether you’re feeling stressed about COVID-19, tired from the semester or just a little bit down, there are resources to help.
words_ainsley vetter. photo_nailah anderson. design_rachel bergeron.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2021 print issue.