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Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Michigan students Sarah Wish & Marissa Levey recognized a need for support amongst college students. They created the Instagram page @covid19studentsupport as a platform for peers – and now have over 1,000 followers! We at Acacia are so inspired by their advocacy & their passion for mental health. You’ve followed their page (nudge, nudge), now meet the masterminds behind the scenes!

MISSION

The stressors that students and young adults are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic are especially unique and unprecedented. For example, many people are struggling with mental and physical health as they adjust to our new reality. Our goal, in partnership with @mountsinainyc, is to validate and address these concerns and uncertainties using evidence-based information. We recognized a lack of centralized and accessible support, education, and advocacy for our peers, so we are here to fill this gap. Support for students, by students.

As University of Michigan students, we have experienced many stressors driven by the pandemic, including the adjustment to online school, cancellations of milestones, and mourning the loss of various experiences. Sarah Wish, a rising University of Michigan senior from New Jersey, was abruptly sent home from her study abroad program in Denmark. After two wonderful months abroad, Sarah’s program was cancelled due to COVID-19. She was on a flight home 10 hours after the cancellation announcement. Marissa Levey, a recent University of Michigan graduate, lost her last two months of senior year – including her graduation. The grief associated with the loss of a milestone that would have normally been celebratory and joyous, as well as the anxiety about post-graduation plans, have taken a toll on the mental health of many recent grads.  

Through our own research and conversations with students, we realized that students everywhere were struggling, even though the individual circumstances and stressors were diverse. According to a survey of 2,000 students by Active Minds, one in five students say their mental health has significantly worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, and almost all of the 2,000 students surveyed said that the virus has caused them stress or anxiety. With no centralized resource to specifically support students, many peers we spoke to felt they did not have a way to navigate the constant influx of news and spread of misinformation during this time. These challenges and abrupt life changes are further underscored for those of us who struggle with mental health conditions. Hoping to bridge this gap, we decided to create an Instagram account – sponsored by the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City – dedicated to supporting students during the pandemic.

With no centralized resource to specifically support students, many peers we spoke to felt they did not have a way to navigate the constant influx of news and spread of misinformation during this time.

The Instagram, @covid19studentsupport, is a platform that promotes student mental and physical wellbeing around the country in these unprecedented times. Our content addresses common student questions and concerns about the virus by sharing action-oriented ways to optimize mental and physical health within the constraints of quarantine. We create posts about pertinent health topics, such as telemedicine services, destigmatizing mental illness, free resources for improved sleep and physical activity, mental health apps, and body image in the context of COVID-19, just to name a few. We also share unique ways to connect with loved ones who are physically distanced, such as virtual games to play and virtual date ideas. Additionally, we promote ways to shape our individual perspectives on the circumstances impacting our age demographic, including the cancelation of summer internships or the uncertainty about school in the fall. We also post funny and relatable tweets and memes each week – because we all need comedic relief during these times.

Our content addresses common student questions and concerns about the virus by sharing action-oriented ways to optimize mental and physical health within the constraints of quarantine.

We hope this account gives students a way to navigate this trying and unprecedented time, by acknowledging the challenges our peers are facing and promoting ways to cope with these difficulties. According to Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “The rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders in this population have been very high, and that was prior to January 2020. When you add in this new set of stressors, I think there’s every reason to be concerned.” With mental health conditions already prevalent in student populations, the disruptions to our coping mechanisms and daily routines can be detrimental to the conditions many of us already experience. Even for students without a diagnosed mental illness, the impacts of the virus on our lives cannot be ignored.

With the uncertainty about school in the fall and the challenges that recent graduates face in mapping out their future plans, we aim to address all students and young adult challenges. Although we are not mental health professionals, we hope to cultivate a community and a support network of students, as we stand in solidarity with our peers in navigating these trying times. Everyone is struggling in their own ways, but know you are not alone in facing these challenges.

If you’re a student or young adult interested in learning how to support your mental and physical wellbeing in quarantine, give Sarah & Marissa a follow on Instagram @covid19studentsupport.

Authors Sarah Wish and Marissa Levey. Composed by Danielle Sharkey, Acacia Marketing

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