COVID-19 pandemic gave students unforgettable trauma

Published by Peyton Manning on

Some UCC students and other community members hide behind both a figurative and literal mask during the pandemic because of hard-to-understand trauma.
Photo provided by Pixabay

COVID-19 pandemic gave students unforgettable trauma

At times during the pandemic, school seemed little more than the sun rising and falling on a world plagued with individuals overwhelmed with grief, hopelessness and disease. Tormented individuals felt the lack of clear, consistent guidance – with no escape from the constant updates of pandemic deaths and hospitalizations or college. College students seesawed from hope about going back to school to hopelessness about staying home forever. Their only consistent buffer and message? A mask.

And the fights about masks. And the fights about vaccinations. And the fights about social distancing.

Life within the Covid-19 pandemic has sparked intense feelings of anxiety, depression, grief and other mental instabilities that students often didn’t know were noteworthy and significant within the general population. Sometimes people avoided finding mental help.

Although, every person copes and internalizes situations uniquely, discovering how to cope may require professional guidance. “It is ok to not be ok,” Hanna Culbertson, the UCC life coach, said. “Too often people suffer in silence, believing they are alone, when there is help and support. It is difficult to reach out and be vulnerable in asking for support, but it can help so much to have a safe and confidential space to talk through challenges and problem solve next steps.”

UCC Life Coach Hannah Culbertson informs to overcome and understand trauma and gives examples to handle it.
Graphic created by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Another reason to reach out for help is to understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has been traumatic to many people. Culbertson defines trauma as “any event that overwhelms the brain’s capacity to cope.” She says that the pandemic has been traumatic to many people.

UCC student, Katherine Cope, suffered from the loss of her father during the pandemic. “He was 60 years old with no underlying comorbidities,” she said. “He was (diagnosed) with Covid in Oct. 2020 and by December, he was life-flighted to OHSU and placed on ECMO. He completely beat Covid but from the multi-organ failure, he remained on ECMO and died from a cytokine storm and a hemorrhage.”

Her trauma only made her job in the Evergreen Urgent Care more difficult when she saw Covid-positive patients with similar issues to her father.

However, she said that some personal ways that she used to cope during the pandemic have been taking time away from social media and remembering her values, so she can continue to move forward and improve. “It makes me want to be a better nurse and help the ones that are still here who are affected.”

Other ways students have coped are learning new college software and adapting to new technology. Inez Orozco, a part-time student and part-time student job placement specialist, struggled a little with the transition between in-person and online learning. Electronics are not her strong suit, and most of the time she will “run an electronic gadget to the floor until it doesn’t work anymore.”

Her transition was easier when she took time to discover the resources and learn about the electronics she was using. She had to install many updates and purchase newer equipment to be more successful. She suggests that students talk to people who understand the technology. One resource she suggests is calling the front desk (541-440-4600) for guidance to other departments.

Hannah Culbertson provides resources for students in need.

Another helpful way that Culbertson says people can regard the pandemic is to look at it as a very difficult collective experience. This group experience is known as collective trauma. “Collective trauma refers to that overwhelming reaction that is shared by a group of people who all experience an event/s,” Culbertson said. “This will be experienced differently and to different intensities or extents by individuals, but it impacts everyone in the group in some way.”

Understanding this collectiveness was something that associate professor of speech, Alyssa Harter, was able to do in a podcast she was featured in. The podcast took people from all over the world and gave them a chance to connect and talk. “The cool thing about this podcast is at the time it was just created as a way for individuals to talk and connect with other humans and have something to look forward to because nothing was open,” she said. “So when I go back to even find this episode…it became this archive of what we were going through. And so it’s this really interesting look at how people were experiencing the pandemic differently.”

Like most people, Harter had her own difficulties. “With the switch from working from home, completely online, or teaching remotely, it’s been a really big struggle for me because I feel every time I turn on the Zoom camera, I have to put on a face or I have to feel like I’m energized because ultimately I’m being recorded and my recordings are going into an archive.”

For her, this pandemic has changed a lot of the ways that she engages in activities and re-energizes. “I was a very social person before the pandemic happened,” Harter said. “I still am social, but (now) I do not find myself feeling energized or recharged by going out and doing things socially. I almost recharge my batteries by engaging in self-care, working out, going for walks outside or simply just watching Netflix.”

Culbertson advises that people shouldn’t be ashamed of receiving assistance or guidance. “Audre Lorde said ‘self-care is self-preservation,’ and while that is always true, it has never been more true than in the last year and a half,” Culbertson said. “Reach out for support if you need it!”

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