Creating Welcoming Campus Cultures During a Pandemic

Millennial writer Marcus Mescher writes:

Competing for our attention amid concerns about student retention, revenue loss and pedagogical efficiency is a mental health crisis that has been simmering for years and is now threatening to boil over.

In her book iGen, psychologist Jean Twenge describes a “sudden, cataclysmic shift downward in life satisfaction” among young people. She warns this is “only the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to a mental health crisis made worse by screens that leave many young adults feeling more anxious, depressed and lonely.

As studies continue to show causative links between time spent using social media and higher rates of mental distress and social isolation, we have to find a way to interrupt the cycle of dependence on digital tools, which is especially challenging during stay-at-home orders and remote learning….

I am not arguing for in-person education in the fall. In the absence of a vaccine and without guarantees about universal compliance to wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and other safety measures, students, staff, faculty, administrators and our friends and family will be at risk not only of contracting the virus, but also long-term health effects including damage to the lungs, heart, brain and immune system.

The essential question we need to ask ourselves as educators and members of Catholic institutions is how can we best encounter, accompany and empower our students in the midst of this crisis….

Formation happens more through relationships than individual dispositions or actions; we are what we repeatedly do together. For this reason, we have to be intentional about integrating self-care and mental health into our relationships as families, friends and communities for work, school or worship.

By leveraging existing networks as communities of practice, we can show that mental health is a priority by how we talk about mental health (as essential to everyone’s health and wellbeing, not just an issue for those with a mental health condition), how we order our day (making time for prayer, reflection or meditation) and how we check in with each other (beyond “How are you?” and the trite “busy” or “fine” responses).

These are first steps toward building a culture of holistic health and well-being.