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About 1 in 5 college students struggle with depression or anxiety. It is common for these mental health disorders to emerge or intensify once young adults move away from home, adapt to a college environment, and take on a new set of responsibilities and perspectives.

This year mental health experts warn that we may see an uptick in cases of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. The volatility of the social and political climate as well as the global coronavirus pandemic have taken a hit on our nervous systems and emotions, which has negative implications for mental health. Inactivity, social isolation and screen fatigue are just some ways COVID-19 and social distancing are having a detrimental effect on mood and mental wellness.

Some of the ways this manifests in students include:

Increased anxiety or paranoia. Uncertainty and the fear of the unknown can increase symptoms of anxiety. Students may show signs of increased anxiety about health or safety-related issues.

Stress. Social isolation raises the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to impaired cognitive performance and a compromised immune system.

Irritability. A review of 24 studies of quarantine found negative psychological effects, including PTSD symptoms, confusion and anger.

Lethargy or fatigue. Grief, fear, uncertainty, and constantly adapting to new information can tax the nervous system and zap mental and emotional energy. Students may tire more easily or have a hard time focusing on detail-oriented work.

Students with compromised mental health may be slower to learn, more easily distracted and more challenging to teach. They may even become sick more easily, leading to public health risk.

Protecting students’ physical health during the pandemic is important, but if we aren’t also prioritizing their mental health, we may be taking two steps forward and one step back.