While there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel for Australia’s COVID woes, with news breaking late last week that over 50% of people aged 16 and over are now double vaccinated (and New South Wales, crucially, over 60%) – things are still pretty grim, with much of the country still under strict lockdown restrictions.
While we’ve been dealing with this pandemic for close to two years now, 2021 has arguably been even harder than 2020. Every subsequent lockdown has done more and more damage to our collective mental health, with stats from the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare becoming increasingly sobering.
But in the same way that the reality of the virus can be hard to wrap your head around, it’s also hard to conceptualise just how bad our collective mental health has really declined. No wonder, then, that this candid post on Reddit has really struck a nerve, and is starting to trend online.
Simply titled “My mental health isn’t well” and shared on /r/monash, the subreddit for Melbourne’s prestigious Monash University, it’s quickly risen up the karma ranks to become one of the community’s top posts of the year, and really hits the nail on the head on how many of us are feeling right now.
“This year has taken a toll on me. I feel numb to everything and lockdowns have made me feel so isolated… At first, I chalked it up to being unmotivated and tried to force myself to study. But I can’t concentrate and I can’t get up some days.”
“I thought I was lazy but I’m realising only recently my mental health is not well. I’m not doing well mentally but I thought I was okay and just a bad student… I need to lessen my workload or I think I’ll break down.”
In response to the post, there was an outpouring of support, advice and empathetic ears.
“It’s difficult to do anything when you are mentally not well,” one user wrote. “You need to take care of yourself and try to improve your mental health because poor mental health means you just can’t do Uni.”
“And so, dropping a unit was the best thing to do rather than stressing over it because the healthier your mind is, the easier it becomes to do Uni.”
“So, I totally get you and you are not alone.”
Another Reddit user wrote: “Just some personal advices on getting out of these depressions during this difficult time, try to tackle small problems piece by piece, and start with those that are relatively easy first, like restoring normal sleeping schedule, eat healthy, or have a phone call with your friend.”
They added: “Take a step back from worrying the ‘big picture’ as it will only makes you stress more. As of now, if the workload is really stressing you out, drop a unit or two and try to completely forget about it for the rest of the year, your mental health is much more important than academic progression.”
Yet another student at the university wrote: “Hi there! I am feeling the same way. I know circumstances are different but I have gotten help from the counselling services at Caulfield (they are legends) and have helped me stay on track. Talk to your tutors/lecturers for help. If not, my dms are open for a chat.”
These are feelings we’re sure many students all across Australia can understand. While the pandemic has affected everyone adversely (except maybe Jeff Bezos), students have done it tougher than most.
High school students are feeling like not only is their youth being robbed but also that they’re being set up to fail in their final exams thanks to the inadequacy of remote learning. University students, too, are missing out on the joys (as well as networking opportunities) of campus life, while still paying the same high tuition fees for objectively substandard tuition.
But those feelings of being numb, isolated and overloaded are something we can all relate to, students or otherwise. It’s easy to feel demotivated right now – but as seven-time World Champion surfer and mental health advocate Layne Beachley shared earlier this year, motivation is only part of the equation when it comes to achieving your goals (though, all that said, we should all be cutting ourselves a healthy bit of slack right now).
“Motivation is not reliable. Motivation operates on the assumption that we need to feel a certain way if we want to accomplish great things. A lot of people believe that, if you don’t feel motivated, you simply can not complete a task to the best of your ability… If we wait for motivation, it may never come. By choosing discipline, we give ourselves the power to create results of our own.”
While we all need to be a little gentler; more forgiving of ourselves and each other right now, we can’t let the pandemic be an excuse for us to drop the ball entirely. Discipline comes in many forms: it comes in sticking to a routine, even a basic one, when we’re feeling awful; it comes from forcing ourselves to get help, whether that’s mental health treatment, career advice or financial support.
Crucially, discipline is also doing the right thing during These Unprecedented Times – staying at home, obeying the restrictions and toughing it out – even though the temptation to go see your friends or head back to the office can be overwhelming.
As English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller once put it, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”. No one’s saying that it’s not hard right now, but we’re almost there – we just need to stay disciplined.