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  • Allison Tu

An Inside Look: Working on the My Wellness & COVID-19 Survey

When COVID-19 emerged over a year ago, I was in my first year of university and planning to make the trip from the US to Goa to work with Sangath for the whole summer. As news continued to emerge about the severity of the pandemic, I watched anxiously as all of my plans quickly shifted to a virtual internship I would do from my childhood home. I had no idea that, in just a few weeks, devastation would set in as COVID-19 picked up speed rapidly at home and across the globe.

The news reports at the time felt surreal, with cases spiking, shortages of household items, and conflicting opinions on how to best contain the spread of the virus. It felt almost as if we were in a video game, watching fake headlines scroll by, but all of the terrible news was true. I was, of course, alarmed about the impacts of the pandemic on physical health. However, I was just as concerned about the toll that isolation, fear, and stress caused by the virus and necessary physical distancing measures would take on mental health.

I was so lucky to be working with Sangath during this time, which provided a way for me to meaningfully contribute to exploring the mental health impacts of the pandemic on adults across India. I began to work on the My Wellness & COVID-19 project, a long-term survey that’s gathering information on how the pandemic is changing lives and how people may be able to maintain positive wellbeing as COVID-19 continues.

The survey was in the middle of development when I began working with the team, who was going through the process of determining what items to include. This was my first time working on survey development, and I quickly learned how much thought goes into deciding the structure and content. The rigorous selection process involved narrowing down the questions because the survey would be far too long if we were to ask every question we wanted to. It was a huge challenge to prioritize the items that were most important to our research purposes.

Because I was based in the US for the whole summer, team meetings occurred in the late evenings in my time zone. These meetings, however, were well worth staying up for. As the team discussed, I also learned how important it is to select survey questions intentionally, using evidence-based scales and having strong reasoning for each question.

Once the survey was developed, my work focused on sharing it as widely as possible, in efforts to gain as many participants as we could. I helped develop a strategy for sharing the survey on social media and created many different social media posts to promote the survey, share mental health tips, and explain the data we received. I tried to use creativity to make these posts both useful and interesting, and realized that social media was more challenging than I initially realized! My motivation to learn more about the impacts of the pandemic helped me push through these difficulties—after all, the more responses we received, the better a picture we had of how people were doing and what might be done to help.

My favorite moment from working on the project was when I worked on some song lyrics with a friend, not thinking that they would ever be used. When I shared these lyrics with the team, however, everyone was excited about the idea. A few weeks after I completed my internship, the My Wellness & COVID-19 Song was released! I was so excited that our lyrics had actually been turned into a great song, with the help of a talented former member of Sangath.

I loved my work with Sangath so much that I’ve returned to intern again this summer, still virtually from the US. The My Wellness & COVID-19 Survey is now more important than ever, with the severe pandemic conditions in India right now. The combination of physical distancing requirements, anxiety about catching the virus, and deep sadness over lost friends and relatives means that there is a significant impact on many peoples’ mental health. I’m glad I’ve been able to work on this important survey and so grateful to the survey participants who are helping us better understand how COVID-19 is impacting mental health during such challenging times.

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