Tandon students gather to discuss coping during a pandemic

Empty dorm room

Change is the only constant of pandemic life. As a student myself, I can confidently say that in the span of a few weeks, our lives have become unrecognizable, with shifting schedules, responsibilities, and expectations. Regardless of personal adaptability, those changes have a huge impact on mental health. The truth is that we are experiencing collective trauma, and preserving our mental health should be at the forefront of our awareness. However, it’s often the last thing anyone wants to talk about. 

The Tandon Undergraduate Student Council is leading the charge to combat the culture of silence surrounding mental health issues. Recently, they hosted a discussion that provided an excellent opportunity for students to engage with their peers about the complex emotions incited by the realities of COVID-19.

Florence Tong, president of the Undergraduate Student Council, has long recognized the need for increased mental health literacy in our community. In her words: “”

Even before the pandemic, mental health has not been well addressed, specifically among engineers. My council feels that these conversations are extremely necessary, now more than ever. 

There are many factors of COVID-19 life that have exponentially increased student stress and anxiety; and many of our normal coping mechanisms are no longer available. 

Understanding that you are not alone, and engaging with your peers about shared experiences, often helps to reduce anxieties. Likewise, the opportunity to engage with professionals about mental health issues can be extremely educational and validating. 

It's important for us to host these conversations for Tandon student’s who feel like they need someone to reach out to.

It was a great discussion. Moderators, Shannon Ho and Alyssa Goldberg from NYU Active Minds, offered their peers the opportunity for productive dialogue, one geared towards making space for big emotions, while providing simple methods for mediating anxiety and depression. Techniques were recommended like limiting exposure to excessive news coverage, getting dressed in the morning to feel productive, and even just playing games to relax.

These methods were well received by the students but perhaps the most valuable takeaway was learning that everyone was grappling with similar experiences. Jason Zilberkweit, a junior majoring in computer science, was eager to share his perspective: “”

We all have our problems right now and the isolation forces us into our own bubbles, so it was nice to break out of that and realize that I am not the only one experiencing some of the more personal struggles. 

Hearing that the things you are feeling are real, and are often well defined, somehow allows you to be more at ease. If others have gotten through the same things, you'll get through it as well

The experience of unity, despite the physical distance between us, is a powerful weapon against isolation anxiety.

These conversations can be difficult to have, but ultimately, the benefit of being vulnerable outweighs the cost of being uncomfortable. What became apparent throughout the course of this dialogue is that having an honest and productive discussion about mental health requires a unique kind of bravery. How fortunate for our community that Tandon’s student leadership has that bravery.

Leigh Green 
BA, Sociology
Class of 2021