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Being a Student During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Part 1, with Emma Watts

Back at the inception of the Mind Tap series, which was around a year ago, the Mind Tap team sat around a table and discussed important stressors to people’s mental health. The list of stressors we came up with that day is now wildly outdated, thanks in a large degree to Covid-19 and the public health emergency that has swept the United States and the world. Students are a group greatly impacted by Covid-19 because they are away from home, away from their normal support networks and are increasingly socially isolated due a transition to online tuition.

This week on Mind Tap, Scott Greeves talk to ISU freshman, Emma Watts, about being a student during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Mind Matters book that she helped to publish. 

COVID, COVID, COVID, election, COVID. That seems to be all we hear on the news these days.

But, back at the inception of this Mind Tap series, which was about a year ago, I remember sitting around a table and making a list of all the locally important mental health topics. At the time, there was no global pandemic, and we couldn’t have imagined what was going to happen next.

We have just surpassed 10 million covid-19 cases in the US and tragically almost a quarter of a million Americans have died from the virus. This is not political, it’s simply a public health emergency and I think now if the Mind Tap team was to sit down and re-compile our list of mental health challenges, Covid-19 may well take top spot.

So far in the Mind Tap series, we have investigated how Covid-19 has affected healthcare workers, who have been bravely providing our care amid the pandemic. But another group who also face a unique set of challenges from the virus are students. To discuss what its like to be a student during pandemic, I spoke with remarkable ISU freshman, Emma Watts.

“Being a first-year student, in a new place and new environment, I had a lot of fears getting covid-19, meeting new people, maintaining my grades and seeing how the university handles the rise of cases”.

Emma is no ordinary freshman; she has recently collaborated on a book called Mind Matters. I asked Emma about Mind Matters.

“Mind Matters is a mental health guidebook for students and academic professionals”. I realized after Covid hit that mental health is very important and I wanted to do something to help myself as well as others.”

Students are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges arising from the pandemic. Students are away from home, away from their normal support networks and are increasingly socially isolated due a transition to online tuition. Emma’s Mind Matters book provides a comprehensive overview of mental health concerns amid Covid-19, with separate sections for both students and teachers. But the book is unique in that it provides over 150 student testimonials across a range of mental health topics.

I asked Emma about the role of the student testimonials.

“When you read the testimonials, even though they are situations, like losing and internship or a family member, we all have the same emotions and are all trying to cope.”

As part of these testimonials, Emma asked students from all over the US, a range of questions on mental health. The first question was ‘what is mental health'? I asked Emma, after reading all these testimonials, what definition of mental health does she think is best?

“Mental health to me is, not balancing, but having your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing in harmony. That doesn’t always mean having 33% mental, 33% emotional, 33% physical, it is making sure that you feel good and are in a harmonious state.”

The testimonials that Emma collected have been having an impact here at ISU, as well as all over the US.

“I spoke to Rick, who is the director of counseling and testing services here at ISU. He said that the student testimonials were very empowering for him to be able to adjust, especially now counseling is online, he understands more where students are coming from.”

But in addition to considering students and teacher, the Mind Matters book has a separate section for communities of color.

“2020 has seen a lot of uproar, both virtually and well as in the streets, regarding the historic trauma that these communities have faced, and just now we are seeing how inequalities are embedded in our healthcare and other systems as well. I think it was very important to include this section and I am trying to serve as an ally to these communities.”

The Mind Matters book can really be a resource that targets the different challenges groups of people may face. I continued by asking Emma what practical things she has been doing to look after her own mental wellbeing.

“Once high school got out, I really started working out more, I also started a gratitude journal to keep optimistic about the world – because the news is crazy these days!”

The Mind Matters book, really is a powerful resource for students and teachers. And being a student myself, I found this book interesting, and it is very reassuring to know that students across the country are experiencing similar challenges. I asked Emma where it is available.

“Go to, we have a contact page and page where anybody can directly download the book. Since August 4th, we have had almost 4000 downloads”.

Next week on Mind Tap, I continue my investigation of ‘Being a Student During the Covid-19 Pandemic’. I speak to ISU president, Kevin Satterlee, about what challenges ISU students face, the problem of social isolation, the question of online learning, and the Universities Covid-19 response. I also gain a clinical perspective from Hannah Brinser, a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Counseling program – and find out what more students can do to promote their own mental wellbeing. Join me, Scott Greeves, for Mind Tap, Friday morning at 7,35am on KISU.