Student Profiles

Social Anxiety Meets Its Demise With Mask Mandate

Long-lasting Social and Mental Ramifications from Pandemic Extend Further Than We Know

By: S. Rodriguez

Stephanie Haskell, a 21-year-old college student from Staten Island, New York waits for the bus on her first day back to campus for in-person learning.

It’s hard to make friends when you’re wearing a mask. Stephanie Haskell can’t do it. In an age where social distancing is enforced, Haskell finds her social battery withstands less than it did before. As a young person, she explained how the pandemic changed the way she communicated with those around her and how difficult it became to be social.

“Everyone feels a lot lonelier,” said Haskell. “Everyone wants to talk to more people, but when the chance comes, they won’t take it.”

Students across New York reported elevated occurrences of self-isolation and a decreased social battery. In the age of social media, that may seem normal, but lockdown added more problems already present before COVID. Our already internet-driven world had no choice but to move almost every aspect of their lives online. 

Without having the structure of in-person learning and daily routine, students across the United States felt disoriented. School, family gatherings, and birthdays were a far cry from what people were used to. Without warning, the familiar structure that students once had changed overnight. 

Haskell enjoys reading outside maskless for the first time in months.

Mental Health has affected a large portion of students. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a larger average of young adults (ages 18-24) reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than years prior. Some reported a rapid mental decline in the first few months of lockdown.

When CUNY announced the return of in-person learning earlier this summer, many students were concerned about switching. After returning to campus in late August, Haskell quickly realized that remote learning changed the way she handled social interactions. She noticed an increase in anxiety and hyper self-awareness.

“I think we got more comfortable talking from screen to screen,” said Haskell. “In person, I’d probably be a stuttering mess.”

Haskell shows off her mask collection for the new fall 2021 semester.

Although safe guidelines have been put in place to keep students safe, Haskell felt even more unmotivated to attend classes. Over 55% of classes remain online across all the CUNY campuses. Haskell’s campus, CSI, has a cap of 25% in-person classes.

With vaccines rolling out and over 55% of New Yorkers already vaccinated, there is rising hope from young people throughout the five boroughs. However, for some remain the concern of lasting mental health problems. Social media also points to an important variable that was not considered before.

An influx of incoming college students and high school seniors experience depleted mental health throughout the pandemic. Prom, homecoming, graduation, and many more valued social events were canceled at the height of COVID cases.

COVID took away more than just these social events, it removed a vital part of any young person’s life—structure. The renowned social media app named “TikTok” has warranted a lot of attention over the pandemic. Not just for its funny content, but for its ability to platform the voices of our youth. 

With over one billion TikTok users all over the world, the app highlighted the voices of students across the United States and gave them a platform to share their frustrations about not being able to see their friends. For most students, school isn’t only about academics, it’s also their main source of social interaction. 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Haskell

It’s been over 17 months since the lockdown. All public schools in New York have been given the green light and are now in-person. Even with some normalcy, the transition from remote to in-person learning will take some getting used to for students all across New York City. The social implications that were left from the pandemic are yet to be fully determined. 

“I’m glad things are starting to open again,” said Haskell. “But I don’t think things will ever feel the same as before.”

Categories: Student Profiles

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