Alumnus Dr. Mark Yu: Mental health during the pandemic and how to cope

Alumnus Dr. Mark Yu: Mental health during the pandemic and how to cope

Alumnus Dr. Mark Yu: Mental health during the pandemic and how to cope


Mark Yu
Mark Yu

Mental health during the pandemic and how to cope

By Mark Yu

With no clear end in sight, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to ravage through countries and communities all over the world, including Guam.

Its ripple effects extend far beyond physical health and have taken a mental health toll on nearly every single individual in one way or another, whether they realize it or not. However, while some can cope effectively with the negative mental effects caused by the pandemic, many others will succumb to its power and control.

Unfortunately, loss, grief, anxiety, depression has been the norm the past two months and will continue to be for the unforeseeable future.

Youth and families on Guam are particularly sensitive to the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Even prior to the pandemic, suicide rates on Guam were already 50% higher than the U.S. mainland and is the leading cause of death for many of Guam’s youth.

The poverty rate on Guam is staggering.

Additionally, family violence continues to be a serious concern in our community.

The effects of COVID-19 will exacerbate many of the issues that have already devastated life, families and our community on Guam.

Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in youth and families. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include the following:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

This list is by no means exhaustive nor should it be considered an official tool for mental health diagnosis.

Indeed, similar to the physical symptoms of COVID-19, negative effects on mental health can take numerous forms and can vary across individuals and communities.

For example, some youth may exhibit behavioral issues such as increased irritability or “acting out.”

For some families, economic loss can lead to stress that can incite domestic violence. Critically reflecting on the potential stressors on our mental health during this uncertain time can help us take proactive steps toward our individual and family wellbeing.

There are ways to cope with the stress caused by the pandemic including taking intentional breaks from upsetting news stories and social media posts, eating healthy and making time for exercise, devoting time to unwind and do activities that are enjoyable, and connecting and sharing concerns with loved ones and friends.

On Guam, perhaps the most powerful tool we have to combat the negative stressors associated with the pandemic is related to our cultural strength of inafa'maolek.

Family and cooperation are the hallmark of our community and is what will ultimately help us get through this pandemic.

However, our community is only as good as our individual efforts.

Just as you should wash your hands and wear a mask to protect yourself and others, effectively coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and our community stronger.

More than ever, it’s important to reach out to those who may be the most vulnerable in our community – including many youth and families – to offer help and resources.

At the same time, we must continue to address the social stigma surrounding mental health in our community and urge our leaders to take it as seriously as they would our physical health during this uncertain time.

While there are ways to cope with the stressors associated with COVID-19, many individuals and families may need additional help.

For help and resources, contact:

  • Guam Behavioral Health & Wellness Center hotline: 647-8833/34
  • The government’s COVID-19 pandemic hotline: Dial 311, choose option 6
  • University of Guam's Isa Psychological Services Center (for students and their families and helpful public resources concerning issues around mental health, suicide prevention, and domestic violence): 735-2883/2890.

Mark Vincent Yu is a 2011 alumnus of the University of Guam, graduating with degrees psychology and sociology. He is now a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, studying positive youth development. He holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in counseling and mental health services from the University of Pennsylvania.