sad woman

Ally Johnson will graduate from Ball State University on May 2, but there won’t be a commencement. After that, she planned to move to Chicago to start a master’s degree program at Depaul University.

And then, COVID-19 wreaked havoc around the globe, disrupting the daily lives of nearly everyone, as well as leaving future plans up in the air. 

For Johnson, the stress of adapting to online courses, missing out on a traditional commencement ceremony and the unknowns about her move to Chicago aggravated her pre-existing anxiety disorder. 

“I’ve just been trying to stay focused on classes and maintain a sense of normalcy,” she said. “But the school year ending early stressed me out, and having to move back home … it’s just been really stressful.”

Johnson isn’t alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 40 million Americans — 18% of the population — struggle with an anxiety disorder. And in the midst of a global pandemic, fears of getting sick, as well as financial concerns, can exacerbate mental health issues. 

Kelsey Steuer, the Indiana area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said having open communication with friends and family can help alleviate the stresses and anxiety caused by these unprecendented times. 

And while there’s no silver lining to a pandemic, Johnson believes it has made people more willing to talk about their mental health. 

“People have been so understanding and supportive, and really making the best out of a pretty rough situation,” she said. “I think in the past when you would check in with people and ask how they were, typically, they would just say ‘I’m good.’ Now, people are saying more, and saying ‘I’m not too good today. It’s rough.’ That’s definitely different from how it was a few months ago.”

While students are facing additional stresses due to classes changing to online only, the COVID-19 pandemic can take a mental toll on the elderly, as well. Nursing homes and care facilities throughout the country have banned outside visitors in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. 

“When you see all those people in the nursing homes that can’t have visits,” Streuer said, “we can get creative with how we communicate. We can use FaceTime, speaking through windows, and a handwritten letter or note go a long way. We need to be sure that we’re being intentional and present and reaching out to them, even if they’re not related to us.” 

Information on COVID-19 is constantly changing. Despite efforts by Gov. Eric Holcomb to enforce social distancing and a stay-in-place order, COVID-19 cases are expected to peak throughout the state in mid-April and May. This new normal can be stressful for anyone, let alone someone who already deals with a pre-existing mental illness. 

Steuer’s advice for getting through the next few months of the pandemic? 

“This is a very interesting time, for sure,” she said. “We need to be patient with ourselves and know that we’re all figuring this out at the same time.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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