Finding meaning and purpose can be a way through existential crisis
Laura Krantz and Deirdre Fernandes’s article “Colleges alert to emotional toll of pandemic” (Page A1, Aug. 21) highlights the enormous psychological damage that the coronavirus has inflicted on college students. The situation should not surprise us, since we know that extreme stress can precipitate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. In addition to these symptoms, however, our young people are also facing an existential crisis. They are concerned about climate change, racial injustice, and the future. Many of them have been laser focused on applying to college, only to find that all aspects of their college experience have become uncertain. If trends continue, many of them will be sent home and may not have access to college mental health services.
The solution to an existential crisis is the restoration of meaning. Two years of national public service could provide young people with a sense of purpose and increased self-efficacy and would help rebuild the country from the devastation of the pandemic. Young people could participate, for example, in education, rebuilding infrastructure, and child care. In turn, the service would then provide financial support for college or advanced training programs. Everyone wins. We will need to develop these types of creative solutions if we are to recover from this national trauma.
The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior and medicine at Alpert Medical School at Brown University and the author of “Mood Prep 101: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Depression and Anxiety in College-Bound Teens.”
Parents need resources to grapple with this situation too
Parents set examples for so much in young people’s lives — self-care, relationships, dedication to learning and work, community involvement — yet the article acknowledges only parents’ providing housing and setting rules for their adolescent and young adult children.
While the emotional toll of the pandemic is hard on college students, as it is on all of us, shouldn’t resources explicitly for parents be part of the response? If they were, then parents would be better able to manage their own stress as well as to reassure and support their college-age children.