You’re Not Alone: Mental Health Coming Out of the Pandemic

By Caitlin Burns | July 7, 2021

By Katherine Haines ’21, ’22

“We made a huge change in our lives, and now we are expected to snap our fingers and go back to the way things were,” said  Psychology Instructor Dr. Alison Clabaugh. “I just don’t think that’s going to be the way that it works for a lot of people.”

As restrictions start to ease around reopening, many people are still feeling considerable stress when faced with going back to “normal.” This feeling is more common than people think, said Dr. Clabaugh.

“We went through a huge change, where we were social distancing for over a year and wearing masks, and the socializing that we were doing was on things like Zoom or Google Meet,” said Dr. Clabaugh. “And now here we are, and I think the reality is that it’s just going to be a big adjustment.”

The pandemic had a huge impact on mental health, with increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Dr. Clabaugh, along with Assistant Professors of Psychology Dr. Juan Duque and Dr. Logan Fields, investigated academic stress and emotional well-being in college students during the pandemic, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology in March 2021. They found that the high levels of stress and poor emotional well-being impacted women and people of color more than other groups. 

However, the toll taken on mental health during the pandemic isn’t something that will just fix itself as soon as things begin to reopen.

“I think one of the first steps in the right direction is to acknowledge the difficulty,” said Dr. Clabaugh. “People experiencing difficulties need to know they’re not alone, and that these feelings are hard. It’s a huge change, and the more people recognize and talk about it, the more people will understand that they’re not alone.”

Dr. Clabaugh says that we often have unrealistic expectations of our emotions, and that those struggling with returning to classrooms, offices, social gatherings, and more need to be patient with their mental health. 

“Cut yourself slack when reintegrating and acknowledge that you might feel anxious, afraid, or totally weirded out by trying to get back to normal,” said Dr. Clabaugh. “Forgive yourself; give yourself little goals. If you know that you’re coming back to an in-person class of 30 students, maybe start a little bit at a time—attend a small gathering with friends and then go a step bigger than that. Do things that are going to build you up and get you ready,  and have patience and self compassion if you’re struggling.”

Dr. Clabaugh acknowledges that while we can recognize the problems that people are experiencing, overcoming the stigma attached to mental health and challenges accessing mental health counseling can make getting help more difficult.

Arcadia University has counseling and mental health services available to students through Counseling Services. Some of the resources listed online are available to all community members.