Corona Culture: The Mental Health Pandemic has Turned Students into Activists

Elizabeth LaCroix, Assistant News Editor

A recent survey conducted by The Bates Student found that 58% of students said their stress levels are much higher or somewhat higher during the winter 2021 semester in comparison to the fall 2020 semester. These results are consistent with the greater influx in patients Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has seen and broader studies published by the CDC on the rising cases in mental health issues during the pandemic. 

These numbers indicate that we are currently experiencing two pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and a mental health pandemic. 

Many Bates students are not remaining idle during this mental health crisis we are experiencing at Bates and beyond. The Active Minds chapter at Bates has switched their focus to their own personal experiences with mental health rather than the event planning and campus outreach they have done in previous years. 

“The way I see it, if we can have these tough discussions in an environment specifically geared for listening to and supporting each other, it will help normalize talking about mental health across campus,” said co-President Caitie McGlashan ‘22 of Active Minds. 

McGlashan also noted that Active Minds has seen a moderate increase in participation and engagement in their work this academic year relative to previous years. 

McGlashan and co-President Emma Morehouse-Hulbert ‘21 agree that the pandemic-related public health guidelines instituted by Bates are crucial in maximizing the physical health of everyone on campus and pivotal  for an in-person experience. However, those same public health efforts have given rise to mental health issues or exacerbated pre-existing conditions. 

“I think the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic-related guidelines are two-sided,” Sam Gerry ’24, an Active Minds member, told The Student. One side is in reference to the limited social interaction people are able to have due to the Bates Public Health Agreement, and the other is anxiety about contracting COVID-19 if these policies were not initiated. 

Although all class years have had mental health-related challenges, Gerry has noticed how the pandemic has impacted first-years specifically. “Many of the social and community events have been canceled, making it difficult for first-years to make new friends,” Gerry said. 

Due to these same public health restrictions, Active Minds was faced with the challenge of switching all of their advocacy work to a virtual format. “Our primary focus was ‘how do we still reach people when we can’t all be together in a room?’” Morehouse-Hulbert remarked. 

Although Active Minds’ mental health advocacy work is more difficult over Zoom, it is even more important than in previous years as the group has heard multiple reports of students struggling with their mental health due to the isolation from quarantine. 

During the 2020-21 school year, Active Minds has been holding virtual “self-care fairs” where students are given the opportunity to participate in guided meditation and journaling. Over the extended winter break, the club also provided students the chance to receive a handwritten letter of positive affirmations and a care package. 

In March, Active Minds hosted and facilitated an interactive digital experience with performance artists Myles Bullen and Maya Williams. Bullen and Williams use rap and poetry to address mental challenges while also discussing how art can be used to mitigate the harm we do to others and ourselves. Next fall, the club hopes to welcome them back for a wellness-focused writing workshop. 

Future plans for Active Minds include a “Share Your Story” event in May, enabling students to share personal stories pertaining to mental health in a supportive and healing environment. They also will be holding more guided journaling and meditation sessions, and once it is safe to do so, Active Minds hopes to be involved with more community outreach in partnership with Lewiston Middle School.

“We want students to know that there are resources available to assist them and that they are not alone in the mental health struggles they may encounter,” McGlashan commented. It is the activism of students like McGlashan, Morehouse-Hulbert, and Gerry that makes a difference in the culture surrounding mental health at Bates. 

To speak to a crisis counselor at CAPS 24/7 call (207) 786-6200 and dial “0” at the prompt. You can also schedule an appointment using either the number above or email them at [email protected]