Saturday, December 5, 2020
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From the university front line: I can see students struggling with lockdown stress

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I’M studying at Durham University and having just entered my third official isolation, I cannot help but feel that the severance imposed by lockdown at universities is having a significantly adverse effect on students’ mental wellbeing.  

It is an issue that continues to appear, at best, ignored amongst the other myriad problems we currently face. With mental health anxiety and depression rising within young people over the past decade, this seems only to be exacerbated by the measures in place stop the spread of Covid-19. 

Evidence suggests that within the general population, those most affected by loneliness are aged 16 to 24 . 

With students isolated in hall corridors, and with no opportunities for genuine interaction in classes or societies other than online, it is difficult to see how this new university ‘experience’ will not be worsening the trend.  

The new national lockdown will leave them stranded indoors once more, many with the few peers they have known over a matter of weeks or months.  

At a time when students go to university to meet new people, (study), socialise and explore who they are, the isolation of their halls can feel all the more oppressive, with little prospect of their circumstances improving. They know what they are missing out on and need. How long before it becomes irredeemable? 

It is not just the loneliness. The disruption of studies, incomplete years of study, job uncertainties, changing formats of work, alternate and remodelled modules to fit the online style of teaching (which I found most professors have done commendably, given the circumstances) will all contribute to worsening anxiety.  

Most students I have spoken to have had no face-to-face seminars, and others have barely been able to leave their halls in the six or more weeks they have been at university.  

So it is unsurprising that 1 in 5 students have a current mental health diagnosis, with anxiety and depression the most common. With the additional stresses of academic pressures, the situation will surely have deteriorated further in the past months.  

Another study shows 43% of students reported at least one of suicidal thoughts, severe distress, a high level of perceived stress, severe depression and high levels of anxiety near the start of the lockdown. The disruption of lurching from one regulation to another splinters the security of routine that is so necessary. 

There is a clear need to provide mental support for students and young people. But rather than being shown care, in some instances they have been blamed for Covid-19 case spikes in certain areas (when there have been suggestions that students getting the virus could be beneficial to us all).  

Students will not be getting the appropriate support they will have had previously. And while it is encouraging to see an improvement in online provision, many will miss face-to-face contact.  

Behind the dispassionate screen of Zoom, it’s difficult to gauge how a person really is. Previously, students would be in class alongside peers.Now, they can practically be absent, hidden behind their cameras, with little chance for someone to sympathetically engage with them and respond accordingly. 

Many students were struggling with stress, depression and anxiety even before the pandemic. At their age, they have minimal vulnerability to the physical effects of Covid-19. But I fear the ever-changing lockdown regulations will do more damage to their mental health than coronavirus ever could. 

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Nathaniel Taylor
Nathaniel Taylor: A third year studying Natural Sciences at Durham university.

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