Emerging from COVID-19, together 

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After such a long period spent protecting ourselves and others with COVID-19 precautions, it’s important to remember to take time to connect with those around us. The whole point of getting vaccinated and distancing was to protect our communities, and reaching out now during a time of stress is necessary to protect that sense of community. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Almost two years into the pandemic, it may be hard to still see the “why.” Why we mask. Why we got vaccinated (and then boosted). Why we didn’t travel or host celebratory events that are usually marked on our calendars months in advance. Even as someone heavily involved in the ongoing response to COVID-19, I know how easy it is to get caught in these sorts of thoughts, losing sight in the end goal: protecting our community.  

COVID-19 challenged many, if not all, of the established systems we thought of as steadfast and absolute. Some were stressed to a point of complete failure.   

As if that wasn’t enough, many experts are drawing attention to a co-occurring, and far less noticeable, pandemic: mental health.  Earlier this week, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory noting recent research findings demonstrating that depressive and anxiety symptoms experienced by young people more than doubled during the pandemic, with an estimated 25% of individuals undergoing depressive symptoms and more than 20% experiencing symptoms of anxiety at a given time.  

In the report, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy wrote, “The pandemic era’s unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and communities have exacerbated the unprecedented stresses young people already faced.” College is a stressful time, let alone during a global pandemic. As Huskies, we are able to come together, support each other and grow personally in the process. 

COVID-19 has made quite clear the need for community health to be just that — something we work to collectively advance together, regardless of major, intended or current profession or interest in the topic. Whether it’s combatting an infectious disease or protecting mental well-being, we all must invest in ensuring long-term success. Quite frankly, the costs are too great not to.   

As we bustle about, preparing to write finals and then leave campus for the semester, take a few minutes to reach out to those around you. Grab a meal with friends. Send a text to a classmate. Write a note to someone you care about. One of the most important things we can do right now is connect. Certainly, connectivity is not a substitute for professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling, seek out campus resources that are available to help. 

Unilateral community well-being is not, and should not be, a solidary endeavor. Acknowledging the social networks we’re all a part of and then harnessing them to protect those around us is a crucial component for all existing public health responses, including COVID-19 and mental health. As we begin to rebuild, there will be unparalleled opportunities for growth, achieved through sharing knowledge, collaborating towards a common goal and learning from each other’s lived experiences.   

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