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“Podding” May Be Key To Preserving Student Mental Health

The pandemic has hit us hard. Countless people have been left jobless and struggling, and infection rates in the Bay Area continue to rise. Many high schoolers have been suffering from increased anxiety and stress, exacerbated by the inability to seek in-person support from friends and extended family. According to a recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the start of the pandemic, rising depression, substance abuse, and even suicidal thoughts have disproportionately affected younger generations. Teenagers and young adults are at formative stages in our lives, and in many cases, “losing a year” to the COVID-19 pandemic feels like it will disrupt our entire future. 

For high school students, looking at a school year possibly devoid of in-person social interaction and support is daunting. Local restrictions make small things like eating lunch with classmates or going to practice with your sports team nearly impossible. Furthermore, some students already have strained relationships with their family that have been stretched to the breaking point over quarantine. In periods of stress, most high schoolers rely on close friends as a support system, but right now, when that face to face consolation is needed most, it’s unavailable. 

The City of Berkeley has put a priority on social isolating, and because of this, most adults encourage young people to stay home. But although it may be physically safest for us to cut out human contact all together, for many the need for social contact has outweighed the fear of catching COVID-19. Even among rising virus cases, there has been an observed increase of people lightening up on social distancing requirements and walking outside maskless or with groups of friends. And, no matter how many stay at home orders Berkeley puts in place, it’s going to be hard to completely stop people from seeing each other. Instead, an alternative solution is creating small social groups called “pods” or “quarantine bubbles.” New Zealand is a prime example of a country that successfully contained the virus cases to almost nothing, while allowing the creation of social bubbles for citizens’ emotional well-being. Although America’s virus numbers are very different from New Zealand’s, a modified version of their podding system could be just as effective and beneficial.

A pod is a group of people who agree to socialize with each other, (often with minimal social distancing), but with no one else. Pods may have up to ten people (the fewer the better), and before you switch to another one you must quarantine for two weeks. While in a social bubble, it is imperative to remember that you are only as safe as the least careful member of your pod, therefore everyone in the pod must work as a whole to socially distance and regularly get tested in order to maintain the integrity of the bubble. Pods must also include the family members of friends — having multiple pods within each family would increase the exposure and vulnerability of family members. Overall, forming a pod should not be taken lightly, but the opportunity to do so should certainly be made available to those who are suffering due to lack of support. If done properly, pods can allow people to have much-needed socialization with friends or family without significantly increasing the risk of catching COVID-19.

During the pandemic, there has been an obvious emphasis on physical health — and for good reason — but the truth is that mental health can be just as significant in day-to-day and long term well being. Within pods, students would be able to get support on schoolwork and college applications, as well as meaningful interaction to alleviate quarantine stress. In fact, in a world that — for the past couple of months — has been devoid of social interaction, safe podding might just be the key to saving your sanity.