November 4, 2020

Princeton Student’s Book Focuses On Mental Health During COVID

By Anne Levin

Among the most significant challenges of navigating COVID-19 is maintaining mental health. The anxieties associated with the ongoing pandemic can be particularly acute for students whose education has been interrupted, with no definite end in sight.

It was this climate of uncertainty that inspired Preeti Chemiti, a sophomore at Princeton University currently attending remotely from her family’s home in Fargo, North Dakota, to write a mental health guidebook. Mind Matters is geared to college students, high school students, the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community, and teachers, among others.

As a freshman, Chemiti was among a group of first-year students awarded a Bogle Fellowship, a funded opportunity for participation in service or civic engagement projects during the summer before sophomore year. Fellows design their own summer internship or project in collaboration with a host partner, and support from the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement.

“I found out in February of freshman year that I had gotten the fellowship,” said Chemiti, who hopes to be back on campus next semester. “I wasn’t sure what the summer would entail — certainly not COVID. I soon realized that I had an opportunity, and had been given a platform. I decided I wanted to do something on my own, related to educating people about mental health during this pandemic.”

Chemiti is a student in the University’s School of Public and International Affairs with certificates in History and the Practice of Diplomacy as well as Values and Public Life. She is a captain for Princeton Mock Trial, a staff writer for the Princeton Legal Journal, and a peer academic advisor.

To design the book, Chemiti enlisted fellow University sophomore Eric Lin as director of design. Idaho State University student Emma Watts is outreach coordinator. Their final product is more than 80 pages in length, including information from some 150 interviews with students about the isolation and anxiety brought on by the pandemic. The book also contains research and resources for students and educators.

The process was daunting, but Chemiti embraced the challenge. “It was very intimidating to write a book, having never done it before,” she said. “All of the work was done remotely. It took a lot of coordination, but we knew what we wanted to accomplish.”

The research and resources in Mind Matters are meant to provide “a fundamental baseline on how various types of people may react to this pandemic according to professional sources,” reads a statement on the website (mindmattersbook,org). “However, by no means is current research indicative of each reader’s unique experience. By turning to the real-life perspectives of students, we can emphasize student voices in these difficult times.”

So far, the book has been downloaded by more than 3,200 college, university, high school, and middle school students and teachers from across the country and into Canada. Current Princeton students can download a version of the book that is specific to the University community.

Books are free and can be ordered from the website. “It was very ambitious,” Chemiti said. “But we wanted it to be comprehensive, as beneficial as possible for as many people as possible.”