‘The Chaos Is Random’: UMD Student Survey Shows Drastic Decline in Mental Health – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The mental health of the student population has taken an exponential hit since the pandemic began in 2020.

According to the University of Minnesota Duluth’s 2021 College Student Survey, depression, anxiety, and social phobia among college students have increased by 5% to 10% since 2018.

In the survey, the most commonly reported mental health diagnoses for all UMD students were anxiety and depression. Since 2018, there has been a 15 percent increase in anxiety diagnoses and a 12 percent increase in depression diagnoses that students have reported either within 12 months or in their lifetime.

Jean Baribeau-Thoennes, UMD advisory director, said one reason for the increase could be the pandemic. She said these issues are constantly changing.

“It shifts and it changes, so it wasn’t just one transition, it was multiple and continuous transitions,” said Baribeau-Thönees. “We’re all fed up.”

UMD students can each receive two KN95 masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

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The chaos is casual.

Jaylyn Glaus

Jaylynn Glaus, a fourth-year student, said she was shocked but not surprised by the poll results. Glaus said returning to campus and constantly adjusting to transitions has been mentally overwhelming. She said there is a complacency that has settled over students as they wait for the next obstacle.

“It’s almost like we’re all deaf to change. Now we just expect something chaotic every day,” said Glaus. “The chaos is random. We are constantly waiting for the next email from the university to announce something else.”

She said she’s seen the impact of COVID fatigue and anxiety on her classmates and friends, as many have been forced to isolate and take online classes until just as abruptly switching to in-person classes.

“We no longer know how to make contacts. It’s really hard to interact with people when we haven’t for a long time,” Glaus said.

“This is one of the biggest changes we go through in our lives,” Glaus said. “The changes we’re already going through are so big, and on top of that, we’re going through a whole societal shift to figure out who we are. It’s really hard to plan things that we would normally do in a normal college experience.”

UMD students deal with COVID-19.
UMD student Ella Stewart speaks about attending college during a pandemic.

Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune

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There’s this huge gap

Ella Stewart

First-year student Ella Stewart said since students have been in isolation for months, it has become increasingly difficult to socialize. She said the current polarizing political climate has added a new social barrier to making connections.

“One side protests, the other protests. There’s this big divide — even at my club there’s been arguments, so it’s just hard,” Stewart said.

Adding to the added concern of growing divisions between classmates, friends and families, Stewart said there are fears of contracting COVID-19 on campus or in the classroom, raising further concerns about academic performance.

“When people get sick, it’s very difficult to catch up. I’ve heard that in some cases people don’t have enough time to catch up,” Stewart said. She said the fear of what may be on the horizon feels ominous, especially after campus life has been taken apart and put back together.

“It’s scary already going to college, on top of not being able to start college the normal way — it’s hard,” Stewart said.

UMD Sarah Stone
Sarah Stone

Contributed / Sarah Stone

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Keep calm and move on – that’s all we can do.

Sarah Stone

Super senior student Sarah Stone, as student leader and organizer, said that when students are constantly discouraged, it affects everyone. “I understand why people feel that way,” Stone said. “I’ve seen it firsthand, people are more anxious when they come to school or events.”

Stone said it was oddly unfamiliar to see so many students in the hallways or to recognize old acquaintances she hadn’t seen in a year.

“What I really took away from this whole pandemic experience is that you just have to wake up and be prepared for whatever might happen that day and be open to change, even if it’s uncomfortable,” Stone said. “Keep calm and carry on — that’s all we can do.”

She added that college students already face immense pressure and worry daily about several circumstances unique to the college experience.

“Switch, you know – are my classes online today, are my classes in person? I worry about going to school. I can’t see my friends. The list goes on.”

Baribeau-Thoennes said navigating constant change takes practice, and there are a few ways students can find some consistency. She added that structuring time differently, creating new routines, and focusing on gratitude can help students move forward.

“Establish a routine, take a break from the news, get outside and engage in self-care,” Baribeau-Thoennes said.

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