Psychological Harm of Mandates – Part One
On March 6th, I testified before the Maryland General Assembly in favorable support of Bill HB699, prohibiting proof of vaccination for employees and prospective employees. It was the first time I publicly disclosed the emotional suffering and pain which mandates inflicted on my mental health, having previously stuck to a “matter-of-fact” timeline of being separated from the University of Connecticut (UConn) and treated as a second-class scholar.
While the emotional toll of the pandemic is generally understood, lesser-known and expressed are the impacts of college and employer mandates on mental health. The first part of this article talks about what it’s like to live with mental health conditions while undergoing threats to your career in the midst of pandemic mandates.
“The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be made light of.” (World Health Organization)
Most people, children, and adults alike underwent stress as society mass-adjusted to respond to the pandemic. “Two weeks to flatten the curve” seemed like a reasonable response, yet resulted in erosion of basic human needs when extended over a lengthy timespan – coupled with mass messaging, lockdowns, and “the only way out” paraded as a vaccine. However, those that were manipulated, shamed, coerced, and bribed for compliance suffered further levels of stress which has not been talked about enough.
Medical Freedom Frontline News gives several not-so-hypothetical situations that occurred as the pandemic progressed:
The Not-So-Unexpected Mental Health Crisis Following in the Wake of COVID Lockdowns and Mandates (Medical Freedom Frontline News)
The situation takes a turn for the worse when pre-existing issues coincided with pandemic and mandate stressors, such as in my case when mandates exacerbated my personal battles.
Diathesis-Stress Model (Rhesus Medicine)
Battling Mental Health, Academic Grades, and Accommodations
During the Summer of 2020, I was officially diagnosed with three conditions that interfered with my daily functioning in various aspects, though I had struggled since a child and throughout my teen years. After going through a revolving door of mental health workers and insurance co-pays, I was relieved to know my school provided mental health support free of charge to students. I formed a good bond with my school caseworker and was benefiting from accommodations as a student with disabilities.
My conditions improved as I began to have a new outlook on life, was involved in multiple internships, formed friendships with classmates and mentors, and reignited my love for photography. I was thrilled that I was no longer merely just a “consumer” but was actively contributing my skills in both art and science to give back to the community. My dream was to go to UConn Dental School, one of the top 15 dental schools in the US Northeast, and to open a dental practice to serve my community with both hands-on abilities and scientific knowledge. This new purpose for my life provided increasing amounts of motivation and I stopped taking medication. Life was finally looking brighter, but the progress in improving my mental health was short-lived.
When the Covid-19 vaccine was mandated in the Summer of 2021, my anxiety worsened at the thought of accepting such a novel treatment permanently into my body. Besides, neither my family nor I were in the risk group for Covid-19 and the positivity rate on campus was 0.00387%. So, I requested an exemption on the basis of my clinical diagnosis’.
But just one month and four days after being granted my exemption, Covid testing was mandated for unvaccinated students, something that was originally not a requirement. Specifically, saliva testing/DNA collection was provided by my school. Both having foreign substances (such as a new vaccine) injected into my body and the act of producing bodily fluids made my skin crawl. I was very uncomfortable knowing I’d be used for medical experimentation. In fact, these are all things I avoid due to my conditions and to prevent retraumatization, as well as because I hold sincere beliefs.
In October 2021, waves of debilitating distress crashed upon my body when UConn threatened to separate me and cancel my scholarships if I did not test. For weeks following this shock, I fell ill and half of the time was dissociated in class to the point where one of my classmates noticed with concern and asked if I was ok. The other half of the time, I was so stressed out and on edge that I couldn’t concentrate and ended up coping maladaptively.
It was embarrassing to be in such a vulnerable state, especially when I no longer had control of my physical reactions, but I still tried to be involved and be a good student. I reached out to the administration to request a testing exemption and spoke before the President and Board of Trustees twice, yet was met with negative attitudes, denials, and silence.
I felt degraded and presumptively treated as diseased, like a leper. Was all the hard work I invested in my education and improving my life about to disappear just because I wouldn’t take a Covid test – or more accurately, simply because my conditions and beliefs meant I was unable to comply? The future seemed hopeless and depression further clouded my headspace.
I struggled with my mental health, on top of trying to get an accommodation to stay in school, on top of maintaining my grades and honors classes (which were all A’s). Weekly email reminders to test spiked my anxiety and drove stakes into my mental well-being. I felt like I had a blinking red label on my forehead that said, “Dirty, Contaminated, Unvaccinated”.
On the contrary, signs and messaging were plastered on classroom doors, and inside bathroom stalls, and speaker panels were hosted on pandemic topics to promote vaccination and masking. After being called “misinformed”, “selfish”, and “tragic”, I was ashamed to be different and feared that I’d be exposed as “a bad person” merely walking the school hallways and mingling with classmates. I often found myself escaping to the school bathroom or an empty computer lab while waiting for my heart to stop pounding or for my nervous system to calm down.
Psychological illness soon turned into physical illness. I was taking Tylenol to dampen the headaches as soon as I woke up and to combat regular stomach pains, diphenhydramine to sedate my anxiety, melatonin to sleep, caffeine supplements to give me energy, and was back on prescription medication to manage my depressive disorder. None of the mental health workers, or even my caseworker who was aware I was about to be removed, reached out to ask how the school’s actions were affecting me emotionally, never mind physically.
By late October, my anxiety was debilitating and I was having daily mental breakdowns. It was exhausting dragging around the chains of my conditions while jumping through hoops of exams and lectures. Suicidal thoughts started to overwhelm my mind. I was tired, weary, and unwanted by my school – the only thing that consumed my days as a pre-dental student. But no matter how hard I worked, how many awards I earned, and how much I tried to contact my administration – it seemed like nobody wanted me unless I was vaccinated or tested against my will.
UConn Commits to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunities
Meanwhile, my university touted its commitment to values of diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities. Their Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment, and Related Interpersonal Violence states “Discrimination diminishes individual dignity and impedes equal employment and educational opportunities” and after being discriminated against my health status, I certainly understood how it felt to have my dignity diminished and my educational opportunities are taken away. In fact, UConn’s Policy for People with Disabilities states that “no qualified person be excluded from consideration for employment, participation in any University program or activity, be denied the benefits of any University program or activity, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination with regard to any University program or activity.” But I was not welcomed or included.
By mid-November, I was crying in front of my mother, it was getting close to finals, and this situation stole my concentration on coursework. I remember experiencing heightened anxiety symptoms that made my last final nearly unbearable – I was constantly shifting in my chair, pinching my arms to prevent myself from dissociating, and talking to myself to keep me present – things that people who know me would find abnormal. I finished the semester academically successful, but emotionally in turmoil.
I was separated from my university, my mentors and classmates, and my mental health support system, and canceled along with $23,000 of merit scholarships.
Everything I had done seemed useless and futile, and my disorders warped that notion into believing that I was a useless being. My school, which had once given me a newfound purpose and hope for my life, tore my dreams away and shattered my self-worth. I was devastated and at that point – genuinely thought I was worthless as a person. After all, 4 out of 5 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – were attacked and marred by my own school.
Mandates Need to Be Reassessed to Prevent Unnecessary Suffering
As science has evolved, mandates must also evolve to reflect scientific discoveries and protect the public from unnecessary harm – whether it be psychological or physical harm. In fact, new scientific evidence has shown that both the vaccinated and unvaccinated have similar viral loads, natural immunity provides protection against the virus, and furthermore – autopsies, Pfizer’s safety analysis, and FDA’s statements show that the Covid vaccine is harmful and does not prevent transmission.
Therefore, mandates need to be reassessed based on updated Omicron-era data to prevent unnecessary suffering – both for those who are unable to receive the vaccine as well as to prevent injuries caused by mandatory vaccination.
Although sharing snapshots from my personal story was difficult, I hope that more stories will come to light to expose the psychological risk that mandates pose, such as stories of the plaintiffs who underwent immense amounts of stress and personal violations due to testing mandates from the New Jersey government. Part two will detail the psychological experience of dealing with the aftermath of having a career taken away due to mandates.
One of our country’s most important freedoms is that of free speech.
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