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'The chaos is casual': UMD student survey shows drastic decline in mental health

According to a health services survey, depression and anxiety levels in UMD students have increased at alarming rates since 2018.

UMD students deal with COVID-19.
UMD student Jaylynn Glaus talks about attending college during a pandemic while sitting in Kirby Student Center on Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Mental health within 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 in students has risen 5%-10% since 2018.

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

Jean Baribeau-Thoennes, UMD counseling director, said one reason for the uptick could be because of the pandemic. She said these issues are ever-changing.

"It shifts and it changes and so it hasn't just been a transition, it's been multiple and ongoing transitions," Baribeau-Thoenees said. "We're all tired of it."

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UMD students deal with COVID-19.
UMD students can each receive two KN95 masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Jaylynn Glaus

Undergraduate | Fourth-year | Marketing and Graphic Design

The chaos is casual.
Jaylynn Glaus

Fourth-year undergraduate Jaylynn Glaus said she was startled at the survey results, but not surprised. Glaus said returning to campus and constantly adjusting to transitions proved to be mentally overwhelming. She said there is a complacency that has fallen over students, as they wait for the next obstacle.

"It's almost like we are all numb to changes. Now every day we just expect something chaotic," Glaus said. "The chaos is casual. We're constantly waiting for the next university email to announce something else."

She said she saw the impacts of COVID fatigue and anxiety in her classmates and friends, as many were forced to isolate and take classes online until just as abruptly switching to in-person instruction.

"We don't know how to socialize anymore. It's really hard to interact with people when we haven't for so long," Glaus said.

"This is one of the biggest changes we go through in our lives," Glaus said. "The changes we go through already are so much and on top of that we have to handle an entire societal change on top of figuring out who we are. It's really hard to plan things we normally would in a normal college experience."

UMD students deal with COVID-19.
UMD student Ella Stewart talks about attending college during a pandemic.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Ella Stewart

Undergraduate | First-year | Environmental Sustainability and Geography

There's this huge divide
Ella Stewart

First-year undergraduate Ella Stewart said since students were isolated for months, socializing has becoming increasingly difficult. She said the current polarizing political climate has added a new social obstacle when making connections.

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"There's protesting on one side, protesting on another. There's this huge divide — even in my club there's been arguments so it's just hard," Stewart said.

On top of added anxiety about a growing division between classmates, friends and families, Stewart said there's anxiety around contracting COVID-19 on campus or in classes, causing a further concern about academic performance.

"If people do get sick it's super hard to catch up. I heard in some cases people don't have enough time to catch up," Stewart said. She said the fear of what could be on the horizon feels ominous, especially after campus life was taken apart and put back together.

"Already going to college is scary, on top of not being able to start off college in a normal way — it's hard," Stewart said.

UMD Sarah Stone
Sarah Stone
Contributed / Sarah Stone

Sarah Stone

Undergraduate| Super senior | Electrical Engineering

Keep calm and carry on — that's all we can do.
Sarah Stone

Super senior undergraduate Sarah Stone said as a student leader and event organizer, seeing students consistently disheartened affects everyone. "I understand why people are feeling that way," Stone said. "I've seen it firsthand, people are more apprehensive coming to school or coming to events."

Stone said it was oddly unfamiliar to see so many students in the hallways, or recognizing old acquaintances she hasn't seen for a year.

"What I've really taken from this entire 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."

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She added that college students already face an immense amount of pressure and while worrying about multiple circumstances daily unique to the college experience.

"Switching between, you know — are my classes online today, are my classes in person? I'm worried about going to school. I can't see my friends. The list goes on."

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

"Create a routine, take a break from the news, get outside and participate in self-care," Baribeau-Thoennes said.

Abigael Smith is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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