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Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The impact of global conflict on our collective mental health

The impact of global conflict on our collective mental health

Sometimes awareness is painful. 


My social media and news feed have been a constant stream of devastation for more than 200 days. Images and stories of lifeless bodies being carried, oftentimes children too small to even understand the difference between Palestine and Israel. Babies are being removed from their deceased mothers’ bodies, born into a war-torn country where it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform life-saving medical procedures. Where famine is taking over, and any semblance of ‘normalcy’– home, school, work, comfort, the next meal, safety– is gone. 


It’s hard not to feel powerless, and helpless, wondering how human beings can treat one another this way. Why is this happening? There seems to be no explanation for the atrocity other than a very long history of colonialism and greed. But still, the question stands– how can any human being have so little regard for the life of another no matter what the gain?


Sometimes I want to look away. I want to put my head down and pretend the world isn’t this way. Guilt comes in, to the tune of my internal dialogue, “I should be even more grateful for the roof over my head, for the food in my fridge, for the safety where I live and the opportunity to live my life. I don’t have the right to feel pain as I witness the world suffer through my screen.” I am incredibly grateful but that doesn’t mean I don’t also feel a heavy weight of grief for the world. 


I asked my colleague, Stephanie Carrillo, a Licensed Psychological Associate, her thoughts on how these global conflicts and the state of the world are impacting mental health.


“I find that there’s a reason maybe why there’s an opioid epidemic, there’s a reason maybe why people are having mental health crises, and you’re seeing an increase in the need for mental health services because it’s tough walking around and not knowing if you can truly express yourself because you never know who’s going to flip on a dime and attack you violently,” Carrillo said.


She noted the challenge in finding ways to release fear and anger that we feel in response to seeing negative events in the news and on social media and how this often leads to suppressing it. “And that’s lonely,” she said, “How do we find our release? Through addiction, [or] people start experiencing depression and they start socially withdrawing. And isolation as human beings can cause a lot of issues.”


Stephanie Carrillo also pointed out the stressors of being overworked to afford the inflated cost of living. 


She talked about society as a macrocosm of the family system, and how if our voices or feelings are shamed whether in our home as children or in larger society, we can internalize the belief that it is not safe to express ourselves authentically. 


“Even [in regard to] mental health, in [some] cultures, there’s shame. [So] they bottle it up, they bottle it up, and then addiction arises, severe mental illness arises because some of these kids weren’t able to talk about what they were going through without being shut down or shamed for it,” Stephanie Carrillo said.


She noted that a breakdown in communication is a major contributing factor to an increasingly polarized society. Particularly how hateful speech has become normalized, and how it has become more about who is right and wrong rather than about understanding.


Ivette Carrillo, a third-year sociology major at SSU said her mental health has been greatly affected by the global conflicts. “I feel incredibly saddened and depressed about the brutal attacks on peaceful protesters by our authority figures. I think feeling these emotions is perfectly normal when I keep witnessing atrocities and human rights violations against Palestinians.”


She spoke to the long history of conflict in Palestine, a fact that is often ignored in the divisive debate around what is happening today, and said she attended a “Free Gaza” protest in Italy in 2014. 


She also shared her personal experiences within an unjust system. “As a Mexican American, I have experienced racism throughout my life and have witnessed the impact of discrimination on marginalized groups, both in history and my lifetime. I understand the stigma perpetuated by the media to stereotype individuals, including Muslims,” Ivette Carrillo said. “I have learned to question authority figures who ignore evidence and gaslight us. I grieve for our community, animals, and our land.”

(Pro-Palestine encampment at Sonoma State. By Tess Wilkinson)


She explained her perspective on the overall impact of the issues in our society today. “I see our political views becoming more extreme and I see people not making room for constructive discussion. This leads to alienation, which can impact how people view themselves and lead to more distrust in others around them.”


Now, as much as ever, freedom of expression, free speech, and the freedom to peaceably assemble, need to be utilized both as a way to cope with our internal pain and to stand up against injustice. 


We are witnessing a massive movement not unlike others in history that has spurred progress in momentous ways. The peaceful protests on college campuses all across the country demanding a ceasefire in Gaza lend an important voice to human rights.


Peaceable assembly and activism have challenged a long history of racism, ended segregation, improved unjust labor conditions, called out unethical decisions around the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and called for action on climate crises.

(Pro-Palestine encampment at Sonoma State. By Tess Wilkinson)


Being able to freely and authentically voice our internal conflicts is also liberating for our mental health.


Sonoma State’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Gerald L. Jones said “Free speech is at the center of free exchange of ideas and beliefs. As a state institution, we strive to ensure all students, employees, and community members have the opportunity to peaceably voice their opinions.” 


Jones said in regard to the encampment and protests on SSU’s campus, “University staff members have been in constant communication with students on both sides of the conversation. Resources, expectations, and points of contact have been provided to students involved.”


Part of the solution, Stephanie Carrillo suggests, is to lean into compassion, actively listen, and remember that we all have fear and we share common goals– the ability to afford to live, gainful employment, true meritocracy, and peace. 


“Continue to fight that fight, but battle fatigue is a real thing— if you are [someone who is] an activist and you are extremely concerned about all these conflicts, it’s okay to kind of take that step back to say ‘today I’m going to rest,’ but continue when you can. That doesn’t mean you’re not fighting for your beliefs, that just means we’re human beings, and we get exhausted,” Stephanie Carrillo said.


She emphasized practicing self-care through these challenges, by creating safe spaces and finding mutual support groups or seeking therapy.


Ivette Carrillo said she copes with the challenges by “taking social media breaks, attending support groups and therapy sessions, and supporting local businesses,” and additional coping mechanisms she’s learned, “self-awareness to stay active, support your communities, and manage burnout.”


As I said, sometimes awareness is painful. But when we turn our backs or suppress negativity, our own suffering and the suffering in this world doesn’t just go away. Continuing to use our voices, compassionately and constructively, is liberating in more ways than one.

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About the Contributor
Tess Wilkinson
Tess Wilkinson, Staff Writer
Tess Wilkinson is a fourth year Communication major at Sonoma State.
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