If you are anything like me and always scan over a piece of writing to quickly determine if it is worth reading, the words corona/Covid-19 have already caught your eye. Now I’ll be the first one to admit that after well over a year I typically skip these kinds of texts myself. Not because of disinterest and certainly not out of disbelief but more as a form of self-protection. But bear with me on this one.
Articles concerning the virus that have a somewhat positive tone are scarce and usually do nothing more than give depressing yet accurate updates on how it has taken over our lives since last year March. Now I know, not only from my own experience but also from many talks with my friends, that the overall resilience we had against the effects of Covid-19 during the first wave have faded gradually for nearly everyone during the second. Since dwelling in self-pity about it isn’t going to get us anywhere it’s time to also focus a bit more on the bright side.
You are not alone. Even in times of a world-wide pandemic it can still feel like you are the only one in the world that has a hard time dealing with the current situation. It might sound silly but for most people I asked this was actually a true statement. Not because it’s hard to believe that others have problems too, but more because for a while it felt almost like a taboo or at least uncomfortable for many people to admit that they are having problems, so people didn’t openly discuss it. And that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Therefore, we will dive into the issues students face together while also discussing the positive side of the whole Covid-19 situation. Because even though we all have our own individual struggles and fight our own fight, we are not alone.
Considering the fact that I am not a professional researcher and certainly not a certified (student) psychologist I took the liberty to contact people that are. As you all know HHS counts several student psychologists ready to provide guidance to students wherever it is needed. That’s why I asked them to elaborate on a couple of important subjects that apply to many students in general in these times. Firstly, it’s important to paint a bit more precise picture of the reality that many students face at the moment concerning their well-being. That’s why I asked them to give me an overview of the most common issues that students come to see the psychologists with, which are: loneliness, dreariness, procrastination, lack of motivation, stress related issues, performance anxiety / fear of failure and difficult domestic situations. Now it would be unfair to blame all of this on Covid-19 itself, because all of the latter is also experienced by students before and most likely after the Covid-19 era. So more interesting would be, to dive into the question which of these issues have expanded their influence on students and which haven’t since last March. The most frequent issue, according to student psychologists, is that where the overall motivation and commitment towards studying and participating in class has gone down, feelings of loneliness and isolation have gone up. The reason for this is arguably that, because of the current situation, people are drawn back into their own comfortable little bubble. The major downside of this is that even when the opportunity presents itself to meet with new people it’s mostly in a superficial and volatile manner. But, being in your own little bubble with few outside influences can also have a more positive or at least stabilizing effect on mental well- being, since there is less pressure to uphold a certain social standard. Another interesting fact would be that more and more students have developed disturbed sleeping patterns due to worrying and fretting. This not only causes concentration problems, but also leads to more cases of students coming in with depression symptoms and feelings of overall dreariness. Interesting to mention is that even though the frequency of the latter has risen, the intensity hasn’t. Also, the growing collective awareness that almost everyone is having problems in one way or another seems to help as well. You are not alone. Sometimes, even to be seen or heard can make a tremendous difference in how we can feel towards a situation. For me personally, experiencing difficulties due to Corona sometimes wasn’t even the worst part of the situation. Endless streams of other people going out of their way to point out that students (and other youth) are simply whiny and spoiled brats that can’t take an inch of discomfort is something I find much worse. This statement, usually followed by something along the lines of “you should be grateful that you haven’t lived through a World War, those people had it much more difficult than you” is much more off-putting than these people realize. Besides the fact that our current situation has nothing to do with living through a World War it’s also a suggestion that our problems don’t deserve much attention. And that is not true. We deserve to be seen, to be heard and to be taken seriously. And that is what is finally happening now. On a positive note, the fact that there is a growth in news coverage and political attention towards the effects that Covid-19 has on students’ mental health seems to be helping. Finally, students receive their rightful recognition and are taken seriously as participants in the suffering that Covid-19 has brought to all of us. This seems to have opened the gateway to conversations about mental well-being under students as well. I took notice that many of my friends were pretty reluctant during the first wave to admit they just weren’t doing so well, but now they straight out admit they are in a crisis before I can even ask the casual “How are you?”. I don’t want to imply that being in a crisis is a good thing but the ease with which we now talk about it is. Talks and discussions with people that are going through the same thing as you give a sense of comfort and a feeling of mutual understanding. And above all, the understanding that even though we are more isolated than we usually are, we truly are not alone. We have each other to rely on.
It is incredibly important to remember that even when you have limited social contacts and little drive to do anything there is an upside to the situation. Almost everyone I’ve met since the first lockdown last year March is longing and looking for social contacts and things to do. Everyone is in to go out and grab a coffee or go on a long walk just chatting about everything and nothing. So, it might sound strange but now is actually the time to go out (in a corona proof way) and make new friends. Just send a text to that one girl or guy from that one class and ask them to do something together sometime. Or even when you are in different countries you can organize a zoom evening where you get to know each other better over a drink (or 4). Or get involved in one of the many student organizations and activities that HHS has to offer. The options to be social are still there, just take the opportunity. Even if it feels a little awkward to reach out to people you don’t know very well, you’ll be surprised with the excitement you get in return. With that being said I have to remember the times I did just that or when people did that to me and I can’t help but smile. The importance of connecting to people is something I am much more aware and appreciative of now. Because just that simple text asking how someone is holding up, checking in on people from time to time or the invite to go for a walk together can really brighten up someone’s day. So, remember when feeling down that Covid-19 also brought some positive changes. We enjoy our connections more and take much better care of them. We listen to each-others stories and we share our own. We listen and connect to each other in a way we haven’t had to do before and it has shown us how valuable we can be to each other to get us through difficult times. So even though Covid-19 has forced us 6 feet apart we might be closer to each other than we’ve ever been.
I would like to finish off this article with a beautiful quote for everyone that has ever gone through a difficult time or is battling one now. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” - Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
If you ever feel like you could use some guidance or help with a personal problem or hiccup, you can find everything you need to get in contact with the student psychologists at HHS on the Student Portal. Important to take notice of the fact that you’ll first need to contact a student counselor and then he/will provide you with a referral to the Student Service Desk. There you’ll find a phone number which you can use to plan inthe counseling sessions that you need.
by Nandi van Vliet
Nandi is a Dutchie, born and raised in The Hague. After finishing High School she decided to travel to see if she could find out which direction she really wants to go in in life. While staying in Cape Town and meeting people from all over the world, she discovered that traveling and connecting with people from all different kinds of cultures and backgrounds is her true passion, resulting in her now being a first-year ICM student. She's a firm believer that you can never dream big enough for yourself and for others and hopes that in the years to come she can contribute to making the world a better place for everyone.