By Mark ChoyFor Mitzpeh@MarkChoy3

Leigh Loffe gives a “If you see something, say something” presentation for the Gelt Charitable Foundation about suicide prevention. Photo courtesy of Ella Steinmetz.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a host of mental health issues for people around the world. College students, especially freshmen, seem to be more vulnerable to these mental health concerns.

According to an NIH study, 71% of college students out of nearly 200 participants reported “their stress and anxiety had increased” because of the pandemic.

Students at this university deal with similar issues including anxiety, Zoom fatigue and feelings of isolation. However, organizations like Maryland Hillel and Chabad have provided different mental health events and resources for these students.

Leah Bregman, a freshman marketing and finance major, explained how difficult the transition was as a new student in college with online classes. She is frustrated with online classes and said she only “might meet one or two people from each of my classes” if she is lucky.

“I think the hardest part is just not getting to know people, not having help from friends, not knowing people in the class, and then not knowing the teacher,” said Bregman.

For Bregman, Hillel ended up being a place where she could finally meet new people and get more involved within the Jewish community. Hillel took care of incoming freshmen by delivering food to them and checking on their well-being.

Olivia Hazlett, the Springboard Social Justice Fellow for Hillel, primarily handles with freshman engagement and understands many of the issues students are dealing with. As a recent university graduate herself, she relates to the “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) effect that COVID-19 is having on her students.

“Most of my students are living in singles in the dorms,” Hazlett said. “And when freshman year is traditionally all about meeting new people and going to classes and exploring campus, that’s hard to accomplish when classes are remote and you don’t have a roommate.”

Hazlett believes that many of the current freshman students have a bit of “stunted growth.” While the average college experience allows students to explore themselves authentically, the pandemic has blocked many of these avenues where students learn about themselves.

Hillel has worked to help mitigate the feelings of isolation by providing events like a Wellness Shabbat in March. This event was largely successful, with 150 to 200 people participating in the grab-and-go event. Hillel provided care packages that included essential oils, water bottles with a fruit infuser and a free trial for a meditation app.

“I’ve honestly really loved it, it’s been like one way that I can at least try to make connections and it’s given me something to do,” said Bregman. “Honestly, just being involved with Hillel gives me an outlet.”

Chabad has also strived to combat the mental health issues of students. They worked with the Gelt Charitable Foundation which provides training to Rabbis and workshops about suicide prevention for students.

Rabbi Eli Backman, the Chabad rabbi at UMD, worked closely with Gelt to help students who often feel overwhelmed by schoolwork, social issues and home-related issues. He asked them to host a virtual workshop for UMD students.

“They are a wonderful foundation who have taken this crisis seriously and they look to engage students and give them the tools and resources,” said Backman.

Ella Steinmetz, the logistics coordinator at the Gelt Charitable Foundation, found the workshop hosted by Chabad to be incredibly helpful. The students who attended were very eager and desperate to look for whatever help they could get to help themselves and also friends.

The main goal for the Gelt Charitable Foundation is to reach out to as many people as possible and to help people get over the stigma surrounding mental health.

“We’re all in this together, and people have to start to become more open about their mental health struggles through the pandemic,” said Steinmetz. “If you tell me that you don’t know someone who struggles with mental health you’re lying to me, or you’re lying to yourself.”


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