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The devastating impact of Covid-19 on students’ mental health in England has been laid bare by two polls in which more than half of those surveyed said they felt their mental health had deteriorated since the start of term, though only a fifth had sought support.
Students have said they feel lonely, depressed, sad and unable to sleep. Anxiety levels have rocketed because of the uncertainty, the lack of face-to-face contact with teachers and limited contact with friends because of Covid restrictions, and their fears for the future.
The survey of 2,000 students, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), found that 57% of those who participated reported a worsening in their mental health and wellbeing during the autumn term.
More than one in five (22%) said their mental health was much worse, while 63% felt Covid-19 posed either a big or significant risk to their mental or physical health.
While anxiety levels have increased across all ages in society during the pandemic, the ONS found students were significantly more anxious than the wider population, with mean scores of 5.3 compared with 4.2 in the general public. The scale, from 0 to 10, measures increasing levels of anxiety.
The ONS also found widespread dissatisfaction among students surveyed, with 53% either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their social life during the autumn term. In the survey 28% said they had not left their accommodation in the past seven days, and 29% were dissatisfied with their academic experience.
A National Union of Students poll of 4,000 students produced similarly bleak results, with 52% reporting that their mental health had deteriorated or been affected negatively by Covid-19. However only 29% of those had looked for help. Of those that did seek help, 57% said they were satisfied with the support they got.
Only 45% felt able to say they were sleeping well. “Feelings of love and belonging have fallen since the summer, with under two-thirds feeling they have sufficient contact with others,” the NUS reported. Almost 60% felt they were interacting less with other students at their institution and only 13% of students were seeing their friends more than once a week.
One second-year student at Edinburgh University, who did not want to be named, described a sense of overwhelming sadness among his friends; many were taking antidepressants and others were dropping out.
The Edinburgh student was also concerned about reckless behaviour with alcohol and drugs. “It’s like people are trying to get away from normal life. It’s the attitude that comes with it that’s a bit more sinister. It’s like, ‘I want to forget about all this crap we are going through, just for a night.’ Everyone has become much more anxious and much more unsure about what life is going to be like. Everyone I know is really struggling with their mental health. There’s just a general feeling of sadness.”
Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, and chair of University UK’s mental health in higher education working group, said there had been a “doubling and quadrupling” of demand for support from students this year. No additional funds from government to meet that extra demand had arrived though.
West said: “I think it’s very sad that young people are clearly seeing a deterioration in their mental health and wellbeing, but we are also seeing it in society in general. I’ve huge empathy for the students and for their families and friends. Coming to university is difficult at the best of times, and this has been very, very, difficult.”
He said there was “world-leading” practice available in some institutions that he would like all students to be able to access, but with demand way above anything seen before it would require more funding from government.
Larissa Kennedy, the NUS national president, said: “Covid-19 has not had an equal impact on all and has further entrenched the disadvantage that marginalised groups feel. There was already a mental health crisis on campus that has been exacerbated by Covid-19. To alleviate this crisis students need greater financial support, accessible learning spaces and safe accommodation.”
Responding to the reports, a government spokesperson said students’ mental health and wellbeing was a top priority. They said: “The government has worked closely with the Office for Students, providing up to £3m to fund the mental health platform, Student Space, which is designed to work alongside university and NHS services.”
• In the UK, the charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393. In the US, Mental Health America is available on 800-273-8255. In Australia, support is available at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14, and at MensLine on 1300 789 978.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: More than half of students polled report mental health slump | Education