How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted Students?
How COVID-19 threatens student mental health and what can be done
Even before the pandemic, youth were at great risk of developing a mental health illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people between the ages 10 and 19.
Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 and most cases are undetected and untreated.
Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among young adults.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens between the ages 15 and 19.
The consequences of not addressing young-adults’ mental health conditions extend to adulthood which in turn, limit opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the lives of everyone around the world and holds major implications for the way students live whilst affecting their physical and mental health in extreme ways. Hence, it is likely that these statistics given by WHO will aggravate as the pandemic continues. As of April 11th, 2020, the number of students required to stay at home due to the closure of their educational institution at all grade levels has reached 1.598 billion in 194 countries.
The 3 main ways COVID-19 threatens students’ mental health
The pandemic is a long-term, widespread disaster that disrupts daily routines for a long time and creates uncertainty about the present and the future. Hence, the pandemic is a significant source of stress, for adults and youth alike.
It is a multisystemic catastrophe that affects individuals, families, communities, countries, and economies. Social interactions are minimized, increasing loneliness. Many people are afraid of the consequences of getting infected; in cases of infection or death, social support is minimized due to traditional ways of handling grief being disrupted because of the strict social distancing measures.
The pandemic has disturbed defensive mechanisms for mental health, like strong social connections and access to health services. That is, while under ordinary stressful conditions, having steady friendly communication with family and peers may serve as an alleviating component, the current pandemic denies youth of more professional help. Exact proof of the impacts of past disasters on youth mental prosperity supports the possibility that these are hazard factors for youth emotional well-being.
This article summarises the general effects of the pandemic on students and showcases ways of minimizing its adverse impacts on mental health.
1. Effects of social isolation
Social isolation has taken an immense toll on young adults who have been out of traditional school for over a year. Now more than ever, students feel disconnected, having lost their most important social arena and the stability that they once had in their day-to-day life. Considering university students, their days are now filled with new stressors such as the evacuation of their dormitories, cancellation of events like exchange programs and graduation ceremonies, and the loss of their jobs due to so many businesses having to close. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have a serious impact on the careers of recent university graduates due to major interruptions in teaching and assessment in the final part of their studies. Furthermore, the graduates are going to face the severe challenges of the global recession caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
According to a survey by Active Minds, 91% of the 2,086 college students surveyed reported that COVID-19 gave them more stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, 81% said the pandemic caused feelings of disappointment and sadness. Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium surveyed 30,725 undergraduates and 15,346 graduate students at nine public research universities. It was found that between May and July of 2020, 35% of the undergraduates and 32% of graduate and professional students were depressed, while 39% of both groups had generalized anxiety. Moreover, anxiety and depression were also frequent among 200 students who participated in a Dartmouth College study in late July of 2020. One of the biggest prompts was the sudden switch to remote learning in early spring.
However, not much is known about the long-term mental health effects of large-scale disease outbreaks on young adults. While there is some research on the psychological impact of SARS on patients and healthcare workers, not much is known about the effects on ordinary citizens or students in specific. There is an earnest need to monitor young people’s mental health status over the long term and to study how the extensive school closures, strict social distancing measures, and the pandemic in itself affect the prosperity of young adults. Understanding these impacts and how best to support students’ social and emotional needs after the huge disruption of COVID-19 is essential. Many students may deal with greater food insecurity, loss of family income, loss of family members, and the general dread of contracting the virus.
2. Gender-specific effects
Initial data from the research conducted by The Conversation proposes that COVID-19 affects female and male students differently. For instance, more female students have expressed that the pandemic has been extremely troublesome to their stress, mental health, and academic studies. Additionally, a significant amount of female students compared to males report that social disengagement has been difficult or very difficult. Given the vigorous relationship between loneliness and depression, the research suggests that the higher rates of depression among female students may be aggravated in the climate of COVID-19. It is worth noting that several other research studies have concluded that young women are at increased risk of loneliness, depression, and anxiety during COVID-19. It was observed that male and female students cope differently with the pandemic. For example, more female students indicated that they were using social media to cope and scored higher than males on measures of problematic social media use. Paradoxically, it was found that using cannabis to cope with COVID-19 is related with a greater negative impact on schoolwork and stress levels only among male students.
3. Positive effects
Notwithstanding the previously mentioned negative ramifications for young adult psychological wellness, youth likewise report some positive parts of the circumstance emerging from the pandemic. In particular, an examination looking at the accounts of an enormous example of Italian youths tracked down that certain topics arose in the young people’s narratives, such as finding oneself, finding family connections, and sharing life at a distance. Likewise, an investigation in Canada recorded some constructive outcomes (alongside the more clear negative impacts), like investing more energy with family, having more leisure time to exercise and rest, spending less and saving more, and more prominent self-reflection.
How to combat this new surge of mental health issues?
Before COVID-19 became our new reality, university students faced unique situations that impacted their mental health: moving out of the family house for the first time, getting used to new workloads and deadlines, the pressure of meeting new people, and financial stressors. The pandemic has not only been added to the list but also the reason for the elevation of some of these stressors, conceivably prompting another flood of emotional well-being issues among young adults. Having said that, it’s important to take care of ourselves. Here are a few tips that might help combat these stressors:
Social support during this hard time is a must. Although we are limited to virtual contact, it can be immensely helpful for us and help reduce loneliness and isolation. Studying with strangers online, via the website Onboarding has been a new trend that has helped students gain accountability and be motivated during this isolated period. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media during your free time, you can attempt to organize a game night using platforms like Houseparty for your friends and family to enjoy together.
2. Practice good eating habits
A healthy diet can boost our mood, energy level, and memory, leading to an overall better function of the brain. Ensure that you incorporate fruits and proteins into your meals and limit alcohol and fat intake to keep your immunity strong. You can try searching up new recipes and cooking demos online to not just expand your cooking skills, but also find different ways of enjoying clean eating. Panic buying behavior is often seen during these times. If you are in such a position of stress and anxiety, plan your meals and list down what you already have in stock. You can look through tips provided by WHO for assistance with meal planning.
3. Get good sleep
Poor sleep has been linked to depression and studies suggest that good sleep can not only improve concentration and productivity but also your emotional and social connections. The required amount of sleep per person depends on their age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, USA, children who are school goers are recommended a minimum of 9 h of sleep and teenagers require a minimum of 8 h of sleep.
Being physically active has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Hence, it would be highly beneficial to choose an exercise routine that suits your stamina and schedule. There are many free workout plans available online that can be tried or you can take up enjoyable regular physical activities such as jogging or a sport that can boost your cardiovascular health.
5. Try new hobbies
It’s good to take breaks from our busy lives and dive into a new hobby, whether that’s painting, reading a book, or going for a hike. This can help us de-stress and provide us with a much-needed break. If you haven’t a hobby already, now is a good time to learn a new skill such as crocheting or digital drawing through websites such as YouTube.
This can be a great way to spend some of your free time, giving back to the community while also gaining and developing new skills. You can start volunteering as a listener on 7 Cups or search through several other websites such as VolunteerMatch which provides information regarding local and virtual vacancies for volunteering.
This article was written by Ana Matos, known as OptimisticDay8079 on 7 Cups. She is a verified and trained active listener and has helped over 400 members with a variety of topics, in the meantime receiving over 100 positive reviews. She became a peer supporter and now helps fellow listeners as well. Aside from that, she has contributed to the community by joining several Academy programs such as an Internship, Leadership Development, Quality Leadership, Community Building, Content Development and Marketing, and Group Leadership and Dynamics Development. Additionally, she joined the Translation Project 2021 by becoming the leader of the Portuguese Translation team and translated over 10,000 words. Apart from volunteering at 7 Cups, Ana is a ESL teacher pursuing full-time graduate studies in International Relations with an aim to further her career in the field of academic research.