Young adults are uniquely impacted by this pandemic by nature of their developmental needs. This is a time in their life when they are still learning about who they are, what their strengths are, what they should major in, the changes from high school and how to navigate higher education just to name a few of the challenges they might be experiencing. On top of all that their life has been turned upside down with a pandemic and the need to physically distance to stay safe. While some may feel invincible and no need to follow the pandemic protocols and are mildly irritated by the new rules, others are being profoundly impacted by the illness and have experienced the illness and possibly lost a loved one to the illness. The assault to a person’s mental health can range from mild to severe.
Most of the research done to assist individuals during disasters is done on natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and man-made disasters such as mass shootings. The trauma caused by a pandemic has not really been studied. What we do know is that attending to our mental health and supporting each other is important at all times. One of the support approaches we teach the students on campus is V-A-R. VAR is an approach for supporting and helping each other that is suggested by an organization called Active Minds. Active Minds is a non-profit organization that supports mental health awareness and education for young adults. VAR can be used to support young adults and get them connected to self-help, treatment, and if needed crisis resources.
V – Validate. Each student has been affected in a unique way but all have experienced some form of disruption and change to their everyday life. For some the change has been completely disruptive, going from living on campus to being in a household of many people with limited resources (one or no computer, limited internet service…), no private space, disrupted schedule and new caregiver responsibilities. Others may be less impacted. Whatever the student is feeling is valid. Let them know that what they are feeling is okay and that you believe them. If they are not volunteering their feelings and thoughts, check in with them and ask them how they are dealing with this current situation, and then validate them. That may sound like:
- That sounds very overwhelming.
- That sounds difficult.
- That makes sense.
- I’m sorry you are going through such a tough time.
- Let your student know that you appreciate their honesty and willingness to share their feelings with you. That may sound like:
- I appreciate you telling me how you feel.
- Thank you – it helps me to know what you are experiencing.
If they are not sharing their feelings and you are concerned about them, express your concerns and maybe that will open the door to a conversation. You might say:
- “I am concerned about you…” and share your observations such as:
- You have been sleeping a lot lately
- You have been spending a lot of time in your room
- You have not been eating much
- You haven’t taken a shower in a few days and that is unusual for you.
Then listen. What many people need initially is to talk and have someone listen without:
- Judging or
- Giving advice
These are things that can be invalidating and cause the person to close down and not want to continue the conversation. It is important that they feel heard. It can be difficult for the listener because we are concerned and want to help and therefore want to “fix” the person. The person at this point just wants and needs to talk and be understood.
R- Refer. After listening to the student, let the student know help is available and refer them to the appropriate resources. You may want to ask them “What do you need? How can I help?”
- You, as the parent or guardian - maybe their stress is mild and having talked about it is all they need. Let them know you are there for them.
- The COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline – 1-844-863-9314 Available 8 am – 10 pm, 7 days a week.
- Active Minds Webpage – “Mental Health Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic” Included in this resource are videos such as “Sleep, Self-care & Sharing Space in COVID 19” and “Advocacy While Distancing” and “Communicating in Quarantine – Close Quarters.”
- Tips for Self-care – A PDF from Each Mind Matters.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 If the student is moderately – severely distressed or exhibiting any of the risk factors for suicide (expressing hopelessness, isolating, crying, very irritable…) this help line will assist you and your student. If suicide is imminent and you have immediate concerns for the student’s safety you should call 911.
- Herkimer College Counseling Center – 315 574-4034. We are available Monday – Friday 8 am – 4 pm for non-urgent phone consultations. Please leave a message and a counselor will get back to you.