The Challenger Within – Mental Health In Romania During Lockdown

mental illness

(Joshua Rawson-Harris, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Baiu Octavian-Ilarian, Mandache Mădălina Elena and Strugariu Alexandra-Ionela, three medical students from Romania, from three different cities and three different years, but all part of the Standing Committee on Medical Education (SCOME) of the Romanian Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (FASMR), a national member organization of IFMSA. They are affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

During the last couple of months, the world has been confronted with a sudden black swan that caught everyone unprepared. No one was eager to have their lives swiftly turned over by a virus. Suddenly, some of us were no longer only healthcare students, but volunteers and even medical personnel. Despite this, most of us found ourselves isolated in our homes.

We have conducted a survey among medical students regarding the effects of the pandemic on their mental health. Over 2000 students from Romania have responded to our questionnaire. Some of the major findings that we have encountered are that people who view themselves as pessimistic are more likely to have negative mental health outcomes, such as feeling lonelier, more depressed and suffering from time management and concentration problems.

However, some of the biggest differences in mental health outcomes were observed regarding social media and streaming services usage. People who used social media more since the quarantine started reported feeling lonelier, angrier, and being more sedentary and depressed. They have also reported sleep problems and the feeling of lacking a purpose. This finding deepens the paradox of social media, which in this case fails to fulfil the role of making people more connected and united. Instead, it contributes to a state of loneliness and decaying mental health.

Interestingly, people who have reported using social media less have worse mental health outcomes than people who are going about their lives as usual, even though the difference is nowhere near as large as those overindulging in social media.

This pattern holds up for the usage of streaming services. People who overuse streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ And YouTube, reported increased sedentarism, stress, anger and frustration. There was also a remarkable decrease in the energy levels and productivity of these responders. For people that have reduced the usage of these services, the reported outcomes are also worse, but the differences are smaller.

Based on these findings we believe that people who have kept their habits from before the lockdown are the ones who are handling this situation the best. 

For an individual to better cope with these months it’s important to try restoring an amount of normality in their lives, thus viewing the social distancing as a new normality and even opportunity, instead of the negative light in which most of us see it. We have noticed that people keep themselves occupied, work towards achieving a long-time goal, like getting fitter or creating something that they’re proud to have better outcomes. It seems hard in the beginning, but struggling to make a to-do list, a schedule, and adhering to them, may help all of us avoid the abundant social media usage and re-establish a sense of normality and control in our lives. Equally important is to engage with those around us and support the pessimistic ones and those negatively affected by quarantine.

Times are hard, but it is up to us to handle the pandemic, as well as our mental health.


About the authors

Baiu Octavian-Ilarian, Mandache Mădălina Elena and Strugariu Alexandra-Ionela are three medical students from Romania, from three different cities and three different years, but all part of the Standing Committee on Medical Education (SCOME) of the Romanian Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (FASMR), a national member organization of IFMSA. Kilometres apart, but connected by the love and beliefs that this Committee stands for, they work together with the hope of improving the Medical Education System, partaking in and also developing initiatives with the purpose of aiding the personal and professional development of medical students nationwide.

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