In year of pandemic, ‘big pool of peer pressure’ means even more struggles for college students

VIDEO: In year of pandemic, ‘big pool of peer pressure’ means even more struggles for college students

CLEMSON, S.C. (WCSC) - One in five college students has engaged in self-harm, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health before the pandemic began.

But since the pandemic, mental health experts say COVID-19 has only intensified these and other similar statistics.

Four Clemson University students are fighting to help their fellow classmates cope with struggles and make everyone on their campus feel like they are being heard.

Their club is called “You Are Not Alone” and their mission is simple: to give people a safe environment to talk about their mental health, something they say is more important now more than ever.

The four women and other Clemson students get together once a week to talk about their struggles with mental health.

“I just miss the human bond,” Clemson senior Valerie Eraz says.

They feel like college is mentally difficult enough as it is.

“You have more responsibilities in college than you’ve ever had before in your life up until that point,” Clemson senior Vanessa Patch says. “But as with so many other things, COVID has made it worse.”

Clemson senior Katharine Gruber agrees.

“There’s an external pressure of, ‘This is the best four years of your life, you’re going to have so much fun, you’re going to meet the friends of your life, you’re going to go out every night, you’re going to do so and so on,’” she says. “Now, it’s not possible to those of us who, I mean, to me, like, it would just be going against my morals to do that right now.”

As people familiar with some early signs of depression and anxiety, they are starting to see those signs in their friends.

“They feel very isolated, and if they feel like their learning experience has been stunted, and sometimes the pressure wins over their better judgement,” Patch says. “When I was out, I was constantly anxious.”

They feel dealing with new anxieties and stressors may actually be why so many young adults are gathering in big groups as a way to cope or because resisting peer pressure is hard enough without longing for things to get back to normal. Health leaders worry gatherings could become super-spreader events leading to a spike in cases.

“So we want to live it up when we only get maybe four, if you’re lucky or unlucky, five years, so I don’t blame them completely, because of that social pressure,” Eraz says.

But the group wants people to realize while you may be struggling now, there are ways to feel more stable and calm.

“I am now at the point in my life where my therapist says I’m in full remission and that’s my biggest achievement,” Clemson Junior Eleanore Fernandez says.

If you or a loved one is struggling, there is help. Just call the National Suicide Helpline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

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