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7 Graduating Seniors On The Best Thing They've Done For Their Mental Health

College students reflect on what helped them through the last four years.

Originally Published: 
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Most members of the class of 2023 began their college careers in a completely different world than we live in now. COVID, if it had begun circulating among humans at all, was unknown to anyone. George Floyd was alive. An attack of insurrectionists on the Capitol would seem unfathomable.

We all know what happened in the next four years. College commencement speakers have alluded to all the upheaval graduates have experienced. And events had a major impact. Elite Daily recently asked 1,000 graduating college seniors across the U.S. about how the last four years have affected their well-being; the survey, conducted by OnePoll, found that 49% of graduating seniors say that the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. And female students were more likely to feel the effects of the pandemic. According to the poll, 58% of women felt the impact was negative, compared to 37% of men.

While 47% of seniors report their mental health has gotten better, many are still experiencing struggles. The bright side, though: 78% of college students have found tools to manage their mental health.

Here, seniors share some of the ways they were able to get through the last four years, and the tools they acquired to manage mental health challenges. While the lessons may have been learned during COVID, they have a universal impact. Read them and get inspired.

I Found A Good Therapist

I started seeing a therapist at the counseling center at school in the fall. I had never been to therapy before, but I had been dealing with a breakup and just needed someone to talk with. The therapist asked me a lot of ‘How are you feeling?’ questions, when the answer was, ‘Not good!’ I thought that was what therapy was supposed to be like, and so I kept going to sessions, but it didn’t do anything. When the pandemic happened, I was still really struggling. I know everyone was, but I was able to find a therapist who was doing virtual sessions in my hometown. It was so much better. This therapist was so warm and intuitive, she understood what my challenges were, and she made me think. The best part too was that she didn’t act like I was ‘broken.’ I felt like when I was working with her, she could help me realize I was dealing with a lot of complicated feelings, but that I would be OK, and that therapy could make me stronger. I would definitely advise anyone to not just find a therapist, but find the right therapist for them.” —Nikki, marketing major, George Washington University

I Talked With My Parents

Our family was always one of those ‘everything’s fine’ types of families. When COVID happened, that all changed. My dad lost his job, my parents were struggling with homeschooling my brother and sister, and the house was a mess. It was actually the first time I ever saw my mom cry because she was overwhelmed. It really broke down the walls and let us be real together. Today, I think we’re a lot closer as a family than I was in high school. I was ‘fine’ in high school, but dealt with a lot of emotions by myself. But now, I feel like I can go to my parents more, and I feel like they also understand that sometimes, everything doesn’t have to be ‘fine.’ —Naomi, education major, University of Delaware

I Made New Friends

My freshman year, I became really tight with the other people on my floor. I didn’t really like them, but I needed friends, and it was fine. I liked having people to go to parties with, have dinner with, or just people to have in pictures to show that I had friends. When COVID happened and school shut down, I found myself so relieved that I didn’t need to talk with them. I actually left our group chat pretty early. I decided to live off-campus for all of sophomore year, I did virtual school, and I also worked. I ended up hanging out with a few people I had known in high school, but had never been that close with. I realized that a lot of the ways I approached friendships had been pretty surface … now, I’m slower to warm up to people, and I’m also quicker to cut them loose or stop texting if it doesn’t feel right. My social circle is smaller, and it feels a little less typical than college students, but I am a lot happier. —Risa, anthropology major, University of North Carolina

I Began Volunteering

I had done volunteer work because I had to in high school, and I enjoyed it. But it never felt that ‘big.’ We would run food drives, do cleanup in the park, that kind of thing. But when COVID happened, I began volunteering with a local group in our town to deliver supplies to neighbors who couldn’t go out. It was really gratifying to feel like I had a purpose, and I also was able to see just how much volunteering could positively change a person’s day. It definitely helped me put things in perspective during COVID, and I became a lot more active volunteering when I finally got back onto campus. —Aurea, psychology major, Columbia University

I Got Outside

When COVID happened, any extra time I had, I used to sleep or mostly stay in my room. This started taking a toll on my mental health. The moment I realized this, I started looking for any excuse that pushed me to take a long walk. It can be grocery shopping or just walking to my college instead of taking the bus. I also started looking for group activities outside. It felt awkward at first — I would go on distance runs in the neighborhood, I would go to outdoor concerts, and I didn’t necessarily know anyone but knew I felt better outside, surrounded by people. Our college offered a free subscription to a mental health app. I don’t know exactly how much impact it had on me but these resources along with the things I did helped me to keep pushing myself. —Tim, marketing major

I Completely Changed My Plans

When I started college, I was one of those people who knew exactly what I wanted to major in, and what sort of career I wanted. But then, when all my plans got upended, I realized that I only have so much control over what my life looked like. I ended up transferring to a different school my junior year, and studying English, when I was planning to study economics. I got really involved in getting to know my professors, once classes were finally in person. And I decided to follow my intuition, including applying to grad school for a Ph.D. program. I feel like I realized that you just don’t know what will happen, and you’ve got to follow a path that makes sense for you. —Georgia, English major, University of Washington

I Kept Up My Hobby

In high school, I loved to dance. I had tried out for a few teams in college, but it was really hard. A lot of the teams were very body-centric and it just didn’t feel as supportive as it had in my high school team. When I went home and worked during the COVID shutdown, I began helping to teach classes at my local dance studio back home for kids. But then I would use the studio after-hours to choreograph and play around with stuff just for me. My friends and I put on a summer showcase, just for fun. When I went back to school, I realized that if there was no dance team or group that was ‘right’ for me, then I had to start my own. —Tierza, biochemistry, UCSD

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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