Virus weighs upon students’ mental health

COVID-19’s effect on mental well-being warrants an attempt at a technical solution


SneezSafe should add an additional feature to track mental health (Jack Portman / Old Gold & Black)

Daniel McKiernan, Guest Columnist

As the new public health crisis devastates the world, the established mental health crisis intensifies. 

COVID-19 has made a substantial impact on the everyday operations of Wake Forest. While these changes are important to the public health, they come with a cost to our mental health. Finding the middle ground between such massive issues is no easy task, but is necessary for the longevity of Wake Forest during the pandemic. If we want our students, faculty and staff to continue excelling in academics, research, and work, the wellbeing of this community must be further supported.

In response to the widespread and concurrent impact of both crises, I’m proposing that we add a Mental Health Dashboard to the Our Way Forward initiative and website.

This wouldn’t function the same way as the COVID-19 Dashboard. Measuring the mental health of our students, faculty and staff isn’t about positive or negative test results. Nor is about random testing and contact tracing. It’s an entirely different problem, but I believe it should be given the same attention by the university as the coronavirus.

The Mental Health Dashboard could display the results of survey responses. Our SneezSafe Daily Wellness Survey could expand to have us rate our personal wellbeing in distinct categories. However, my point here is just to propose the idea of the Dashboard, as there are people more qualified than me to decide on how it would operate.

A Mental Health Dashboard isn’t a solution to the problem, but makes us extensively more aware of it and guides us toward solutions.

Fighting both crises requires a growth mindset. It’s about recognizing if the current tactics are working. It’s about adjusting when things are not working.

The present challenges are so [new] that it’s hard for us to understand ourselves and what we’re going through.”

The university recently entered the Orange operating Level in COVID-19. We knew that cases increased by a significant amount. We realized that there was an issue and made the proper adjustments to campus. Why can’t we do the same for mental health? Potential solutions wouldn’t be as straightforward as wearing a mask and distancing, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

The Mental Health Dashboard could utilize a similar color-coded system. But it should be about more than just numbers or colors; I’ve been disappointed with the lack of attention and concern for those struggling in their wellbeing on-campus, off-campus, and at the hotels in quarantine. As a freshman who’s having trouble making friends in the midst of this pandemic, knowing that I’m not the only one dealing with loneliness would be deeply meaningful.

The voices of those struggling should be expressed, heard, understood and shared. This is not the time to suppress our emotions; we need to be real about how we’re doing. The present challenges are so new and unparalleled that it’s hard for us to understand ourselves and what we’re going through. By encouraging a broader, multimodal discussion on the difficulties of COVID-19 on mental health across the Wake Forest community, we will obtain a better understanding of how we’re feeling and how we can improve.

As Wake Forest has proven time and time again, we are more than just a place of research and higher education; we challenge complacency and effectuate impactful change in our local and global communities.

We have the opportunity to be a leader in combating both COVID-19 and the mental health complications that are intensified during this pandemic. We have the opportunity to strengthen our resiliency when confronted with immense difficulties. We have the opportunity to display to our community, to other universities, and to the world what it means to “Show Humanitate.” I hope that we seize these opportunities.