The student lifestyle in January 2021 is unrecognisable compared to what it was a year ago. Lectures and seminars are online, socialising is basically limited to cold and rainy walks, and the number of students living at home has risen significantly. Naturally, this has all taken a toll on the mental health of students around the country. I recently got the opportunity to chat with Dominic Smithies from Student Minds about this topic, and he identified four main ways in which the pandemic has impacted students’ mental wellbeing.
Dominic pointed out that 52% of students work part-time to finance their degrees. Job insecurity during the pandemic has been a cause of stress for those who rely on these jobs. The majority of these students work in the hospitality sector, which has been greatly impacted by Covid, but also often involves a lot of customer contact, which can be another source of stress. Furthermore, many students are paying for accommodation at university which they aren’t currently using, again leading to a money drainage which can cause stress. Those graduating have also faced the difficulty of searching for jobs in the midst of a pandemic. Some have had graduate schemes, postgraduate programmes, or study abroad cancelled, leaving their plans up in the air.
The transition to university is never easy, but for first years, this year has been particularly challenging. Moving to an entirely new city with flatmates you don’t know is even more difficult when there is limited interaction with the people outside your flat. Furthermore, students may find themselves living with people who have different attitudes to the restrictions, leading to tricky conversations. Or they might find themselves stuck at home without their university support system around them. The pandemic has highlighted the issue of loneliness and isolation, one which Student Minds saw as a concern even before the pandemic.
This entirely new learning format is not suited to everyone, and students and staff alike have had to overcome various challenges in adapting to it. For those with limited space, resources, or unstable WiFi connections, online teaching can be a massive source of anxiety. Many have found that there is less academic support available, with fewer one-on-one sessions, and less structure due to asynchronous learning. Those stuck at home are unable to access many of the resources they are paying for, such as library access and study spaces, which can have an impact on the quality of their academic work. Furthermore, the amount of screen time can cause fatigue and impact students’ sleeping patterns. And those on study abroad they have had to deal with the stress of leaving a country halfway through the year, or in some cases adjust to not going at all. Universities have provided alternative resources for these students, but it is definitely not the experience they signed up for.
Dominic pointed out that there has been a real anxiety among students about getting and spreading Covid. Universities have put various processes in place to make sure that students are safe when moving to and from university, but of course, they can’t stop the virus spreading altogether. Most students know someone who has had Covid, and for some it feels like moving to and from home, attending in person seminars, or going to the library – all of which is necessary for many students – makes getting ill an inevitability. This has been a cause of stress for students throughout the pandemic.
Of course, not every student has faced all of these challenges. It is true that some students have found that the online teaching format works better for them, especially when it comes to lectures, and have found academic work a much-needed distraction from everything going on. But coronavirus has impacted the mental health of so many people around the world, and students are no exception. If you are a student and have found your mental wellbeing deteriorating because of the pandemic, then Student Minds had lots of resources to support you. Check out my interview with Dominic here and their website to find out more: www.studentminds.co.uk. Look after yourselves and stay safe!
Member of the SMaRteN Student Media Team and final year English Language and Literature undergraduate at the University of Birmingham
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