COVID-19 Cases Skyrocket in Illinois as Student Mental Health May Be Worsening

bebarnes | PixabayWith COVID-19 cases in Illinois still on the rise, there doesn't seem to be an end to social distancing in sight — much to people's disappointment.

As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase in Illinois, public health officials worry the state is headed in the wrong direction as people are growing tired of following public health guidelines telling them to keep away from friends and family. 

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Heath, addressed the reality of pandemic fatigue — which may include people gathering more and fewer people wearing masks — in a press conference Oct. 23.

“I understand how pandemic fatigue is striking everyone, it’s real,” Ezike said. “People are tired of not seeing their families. They are tired of postponing the wedding and the other life celebrations.” 

Even before the recent surge in cases — including the record-breaking 12,623 new COVID-19 cases Nov. 10 — many college students were facing the effects of the pandemic. Mental health is becoming a struggle for students, according to Scott Leon, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola.

“Many students are longing for a return to normal life,” said David DeBoer, director of counseling for Loyola’s Wellness Center. “Loyola is trying their best to mitigate the effects isolation has on students. We are doing what we can to combat it.”

Leon said he’s seeing more and more students struggle with mental health because of the pandemic.

“I am seeing an increase in mental health issues and more students taking leaves and having to go for treatment,” Leon said. “The things that reward us in our life are no longer there. College is a time for new beginnings and a time where identities and friendships are really developing and not being able to be on a college campus is impacting students.”

The stigma around mental health limits students’ ability to reach out to a support system especially during these times, Leon said. Some students may feel a certain sense of isolation from not being on campus that’s hindering their abilities to reach out for help, according to Leon.

“I think that part of the challenge of isolation is that we are alone and we know that loneliness is a major predictor of well-being,” Leon said. “One of the things that we know when it comes to something like depression is that social support is critical. Just being able to tell people that they are struggling can be a huge help.”

Leon said he thinks the rate of mental health issues has increased since the beginning of the semester. 

One study on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic found major depressive disorders had doubled in some undergraduate and graduate students from 2019 to 2020 and generalized anxiety disorders were 1.5 times higher in 2020 than in 2019. 

Leon said it’s still important to have social interaction during these times. Doing social distanced meetings or big Zoom calls with friends are things that can keep students together while still following guidelines, according to Leon. 

“I think from a health perspective, closing school was a good choice,” Leon said. “We have to get through this, but we also have to get back to our lives as quickly as we can.”

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