By Heather Lewin
Before last semester’s abrupt transfer online due to COVID-19, my daily routine began like this: get up, drink coffee, go to the gym, shower, put on makeup, get dressed, and leave for school. Now, my wardrobe mainly consists of pajamas and sweatpants, and my face hasn’t seen a lick of makeup in months. It seems my wake-up time is getting later and later as I sprawl out of bed for my Webex classes by changing from my nighttime pajamas to my daytime pajamas.
At first, I thought, “Wow, I am truly living my anti-social dreams.” But I began to realize that never leaving that house harmed my mental health. And I was not alone. A CDC survey reported that one in three Americans are reporting anxiety and depression symptoms—three times the rate from a similar study from the first half of 2019. Even Michelle Obama has said the pandemic, amongst other things, has led her to suffer from a “low-grade depression.”
According to 3L Kathryn Ingle, the pandemic has “100%” affected her mental health. Kathryn and fellow 3L Sarah Vinci both said they felt higher stress being at home all the time. Sarah said, “COVID-19 has hurt my mental health. I am currently in my third year of law school, on two different journals, taking five classes, and working three days a week. Trying to juggle all of my responsibilities while also navigating law school online for the first time has been difficult. Especially when I had to care for my boyfriend, who was sick with COVID-19, . . . in addition to missing my friends, my family, and the normal law school atmosphere.” Additionally, students felt that there is now less of a boundary between school and play. 2L Lexi Zobeideh said, “Being home and online, there’s no line between working and not working, I can work at all times, and it sort of feels like that’s what we’re expected to do. So, I’m trying to establish that boundary better.”
Regardless of a significant global pandemic, we as law students already experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug-related impairments. According to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, as of 2019, 96% of law students experienced significant stress. There has always been a stigma surrounding mental health, and it is often hard to talk about it. Many of us are no longer able to turn to our regular stress relievers. Lexi said, “Many of the things I like to do to relax are no longer accessible like hanging out with friends or going out to eat, so I’ve had to try and develop other ways to cope. I’ve recently tried to schedule a time to take walks or go to the pool or play tennis and treat it with the same priority as my schoolwork, which has been challenging. I am working to spend time with my family and facetime my law school friends who are far away because they can relate, so talking to them helps!”
Like Lexi, I decided I needed to take control of my mental health in these challenging times. I turned to the one thing I can always depend on: Google. I bought myself an anxiety journal and an adult coloring book to pass the time. Having activities aside from countless hours of Netflix to waste time between school and studying has helped immensely. 3L Brandon Auerbach also stated that it was vital for him to make time for hobbies. He said, “Because we are studying, doing school, and living all in one place, I realized I needed to have hobbies. I have started to take an interest in exercising and cooking to pass the long days at home.” 3L Nicole Hanna agreed: “It is my time outdoors hiking that has helped my mental health.”
But sometimes hobbies are not enough. The Covid-19 pandemic has also created a shift toward online therapy. According to TIME Magazine and Dr. Jay Shore, a professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the American Psychiatric Association’s Telepsychiatry Committee chair, before COVID-19, telepsychiatry was available but “only sporadically adopted.” In mid-May, the American Psychiatrist Association surveyed its members on how often they held tele-psych sessions. Before the pandemic, only 2.1% of members reported using tele-psych sessions 76-100% of the time. Now, 84.7% of members say they are using tele-psych sessions. Online therapy and psychiatry are also convenient: they are just as effective as in-person sessions and allow patients access to a more comprehensive selection provider. Two of the most popular online therapy platforms are BetterHelp and Talkspace.
Whether it is simple hobbies or taking the steps towards therapy, it is essential that we take care of our mental health, especially during these times. With a smaller divide between work, school, and play, I encourage everyone to take up new at-home activities, facetime with family and friends, and look into online therapy platforms.