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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The other battle of the university students: mental health aggravated by the confinement

We will call her Tania. He is 19 years old, he is in the sixth cycle of university and 28 days ago he felt that he could not take it anymore. Before the pandemic of COVID-19 She was a sociable, expressive, diligent young woman and suddenly she couldn’t touch anything without bathing first. Her hands were red from scrubbing them with soap and alcohol; physical contact was impossible and the fear of going out paralyzed her. His grades dropped, just turning on the computer was a painful task and he began to feel that there was no one in the world who understood that everything was out of his control.

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She spoke with two psychologists, a psychiatrist and even friends and felt even more alone. He wasn’t doing it on purpose, he couldn’t relate to anyone anymore. She was thinking about her past life, about the pain of having been –in her words– “a high school student” and that now she could not express herself or concentrate in the least. They told him about obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, from anxiety and he wondered if she was just that now.

Scared of herself, on Saturday, October 31, she took several pills and took them all at once. She does not know how she woke up on Sunday surrounded by her family. She remembers almost nothing about that, only her sister’s voice telling her that she would never judge her. She clings to the hug they gave each other and realizes this, with pain, because there is a part within her that knows that nothing is her fault.

Valeria Coca, from the eighth cycle of Communication Sciences, has already controlled her shame by saying that she had episodes of anxiety since the pandemic started. He lost the desire to eat, to study, to talk to others. If during the days he only wanted to sleep, at night the worst scenarios were repeated in his head. She was short of breath, her blood pressure dropped, and she cried for no apparent reason.

Claudio, who has a diagnosis of the autism spectrum, says that the last six years of therapy had allowed him to adapt in social settings. With the confinement and virtual classes he experimented again anxiety, stress and depression. He had migraines, tachycardia, physical pain as he wondered if it was worth paying to study like this, not to learn.

Sebastián Vargas speaks of irritability, inability to express himself, abrupt weight gain. Caesar, of a stress that he did not let him sleep and made him isolate himself even from his closest friends. Marisol Alvarado and Camila Craig also felt that their conditions of mental health they worsened after the confinement due to the pandemic.

They feel alone, excluded and, although several are already in therapy, with the persistent idea that they may be the only ones going through something similar.

In numbers

The compulsory confinement and the limitation of spaces to socialize have been the trigger for episodes of stress, anxiety or have exacerbated disorders such as depression. A study carried out by the Consortium of Universities (PUCP, UP, U. de Lima) with the participation of 7,712 students puts it in numbers: only in severe and extremely severe symptoms do stress, anxiety and depression reach the 32%, 39% and 39%, respectively. In addition, 19.1% of students said that they have thought about suicide, 6.3% have planned to kill themselves and 7.9% have actually attempted it.

Mónica Cassaretto, doctor in psychology from the PUCP and one of the authors of the study, explains that although the entire population has had different levels of affectation to its mental health, students already faced additional challenges from stress and anxiety. “Universities generate high amounts of academic stress. Most of the students are late adolescents or emerging adults in full development in which interpersonal relationships with peers are fundamental, ”he tells this newspaper.

To this was added that suddenly several had to face losses, assume economic roles and be new supports in their family. In fact, more than half of the participants had relatives who were infected with COVID-19, 20% had lost one or more relatives to this virus, 9% had been diagnosed with this disease and 46% reported that they had too much or too scared of getting infected.

The findings also showed high levels of physical discomfort that is not always paid attention to. “There is a great presence of somatization, physical symptoms that are not necessarily related to a serious disease but rather reflect problems of stress and anxiety”Indicates Cassaretto.

Headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or others can be the starting point to ask ourselves if we are mentally and emotionally well.

Comprehensive approach

Cecilia Chau Pérez Araníbar, doctor in psychology from the PUCP and another of the authors, explains that this study, published on November 8 based on a survey carried out between August and September 2020, seeks to have evidence that allows universities to address the new scenarios.

“It is going to need a gradual adaptation to the return. More prevention work is needed and to evaluate that those who already have diagnoses can still stay at home if they wish. [Volver a socializar] for some it is more difficult “he insists.

What the University Consortium has shown is not alien to the reality of other study houses. Janeth Lazo, head of the Center for Mental health Community University of San Marcos, for example, explains that there the pandemic has increased by 25% the diagnoses of anxiety-depressive disorders. At this age, social acceptance begins to carve a lot and begins to emerge anxieties due to the weight, the appearance, the fear arises that they will see them after having been locked up for so long ”, he adds.

How to deal with this situation? Chau emphasizes that the mental health as part of the integral health in which external aspects influence. “It is a social construction and that is why it is required that the subject be discussed and the person who has a problem be respected. Everything is treatable ”, he emphasizes.

In this way, visibility is relevant. Caro Díaz, journalist, activist of mental health and creator of the project Más que Bipolar, argues that the road is not easy, but it can contribute to ending stereotypes. “I was afraid that they would not want to hire me if I said my diagnosis, the stigma is strong, but there is also self-stigma because we assume that people are going to reject you. My life after speaking has been much better than pretending I had nothing, “he says.

All the young people who spoke in this note, and those who gave their testimonies anonymously, agree that the fear that no one will understand you prevents them from seeking help. That the consultations cost more than their possibilities and having run into teachers without empathy do not add up either. Hence the task of tackling this problem involves everyone.

Attacks on the Sunedu also generate anxiety in young people.

While many young people try to deal with anxiety and the stress Due to a virtual education that does not provide them with enough tools to develop professionally, the constant political pressures to go backwards in the reform of higher education reinforce doubts about the future.

Paul Neira, educator and CEO of The Learning Factor, maintains that Congress and the Executive contribute to the uncertain environment.

A few days ago, Congressman Esdras Medina, from Renovación Popular, presented a bill that would take away autonomy and leadership from Sunedu over the country’s university system. Added to this is the Popular Action project to give a second chance to undergraduate universities. “We have a strengthened Congress in its attempt to weaken Sunedu and, on the other hand, the Executive that does not define a north, has budget problems to support public universities and has ambivalent messages about returning to classes,” he told El Comercio.

For the educator, this instability can increase situations of anxiety and stress in students who do not know what the future of the entire higher education system will be.

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