STUDENT mental health is being neglected during Covid-19 and storing up problems for the future – a leading psychiatrist has said.
Dr Jane Morris, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said worries about an “imperfect education” and concerns about taking final exams – are having an impact on the “forgotten student population” during lockdown.
Financial woes, including accommodation worries coupled with a feeling of loneliness and the anti-climax of career ambitions coming up against reduced employment prospects, could already be having a “profound” effect, “storing up” mental health problems for the future, Dr Morris added.
The comments were made on the back of a recent Scotland-wide NUS study which revealed seven in ten students are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their final degree, while three in four are worried about their ability to manage bills.
One in five will also need to stay in their accommodation beyond their planned contract date – with over two in three concerned about their ability to pay rent.
Dr Jane Morris said: “We tend to see students as a privileged group of healthy young people, so very little has been said about their needs during this pandemic. But the reality is, they’re in a very vulnerable position.
“We have those who are worried that their education has to be delivered in a hasty, makeshift manner. Practical laboratory-based opportunities and fieldtrips are cancelled, and face-to-face teaching replaced by online contact. Despite immense efforts by university staff, students fear they have missed out on vital studies during this time and that employers may consider their qualifications substandard. This leads to stress and strain about future job prospects.
“Then there are those forgotten students who haven’t returned home and are lonely, floating around on campus feeling really lost. These students need extra support now, to stop a mental health crisis looming in the future.
“Universities need to consider active outreach to check that each individual student is coping. Mental wellbeing is often best served by practical support such as finance, a degree of certainty about qualifications and degree ceremonies and some idea of options for the next academic year. We must show these young people that they are a valued part of our investment in the future.”
Andrew Wilson, president of the student union at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Students are facing a massive upheaval during lockdown, which is having an impact on their mental health. They felt connected on campus, but now they’re having to deal with everything which isn’t normal, putting an enormous pressure on their mental health.”
Liam McCabe, NUS Scotland president, said: “The outbreak of COVID-19 is causing untold disruption to students’ studies, work, and lives.
“Coronavirus has hit thousands of students in the pocket, severely affected the quality of their learning, and created a bleak outlook for graduates as they enter into the most uncertain economy in a generation. That’s why we urgently need a student safety net for our members in Scotland.
“We recognise the significant impact that COVID-19 and the disruption it has wrought is having on the wellbeing and mental health of Scotland’s students. That’s why we have refocused the work of Think Positive, the Scottish Government funded student mental health project hosted by NUS Scotland, to support Scotland’s students through this crisis.”
Anna Cowan, 21, is studying at the University of Edinburgh but had been on a year abroad at the University of British Columbia in Canada and had to return home. This means she is still studying at the University of Canada but from her home in Glasgow, with no interaction with friends from either university. Anna is finding lockdown lonely and is worried about her own mental health, as well as her peers.
She said: “Having to pack-up and abruptly leave my life in Canada behind was an extremely stressful and I’ve been struggling with feeling quite low and down about what has happened whilst simultaneously feeling guilty for being selfish, when so much is happening in the world.
“However, I’ve been trying to tell myself that it is okay to be sad about my own situation, so long as I am also being kind to myself and conducting self-care.
“Most of my fellow students feel the same; regardless if they were abroad or not, they feel extremely hopeless and concerned about their academic performances; many are putting extremely high expectations upon themselves despite the situation being unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.
“I would like to see universities supporting our mental health much more than they currently are, as currently many of my peers feel as though they’ve been left to fend for themselves in such scary times.”