Students’ mental health at risk in coronavirus era

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Students’ mental health has long been a point of concern, and student organisations started ringing the alarm about stress and burnouts way before the coronavirus crisis. A new national study published recently shows that students are experiencing more mental health problems since the start of the pandemic.

Feeling down
A new survey (Dutch only) conducted among 8300 students enrolled at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Leiden University, Utrecht University and Maastricht University appears to confirm that students’ mental health is being significantly affected by the crisis. The four institutions have joined forces under the name Caring Universities in order to map students’ psychological wellbeing and to provide online support to those in need.

Based on the first results, it looks like there is a strong need for help, especially during the pandemic. Fifty-six percent of respondents have indicated that they have trouble concentrating, while 52 percent say they are lonelier and 47 percent say they feel down more often.  

Loved ones
The researchers say that the number of students with anxiety issues has also risen since last year, although it is striking that few students fear contracting COVID-19. Only 10 percent is scared of becoming ill. Only 54 percent say they are complying strictly with the rules in order not to get infected.

The respondents are more concerned about study delays (77 percent), loved ones getting infected (58 percent) and the financial impact the crisis will have on them personally (26 percent). 

No idea what to do
The Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO) says the numbers are shocking and is calling for more face-to-face education. “I am afraid that social distancing will make the situation even harder for students who have no idea what to do about mental health issues”, says chairperson Dahran Çoban. “Due to the pandemic, it is much harder to talk to teachers or student counsellors about what is bothering you.”

In the last academic year, a lot was done to take some of the pressure off students’ shoulders, including postponing the binding study advice (BSA), providing options for exceptional admission and financial compensation for graduates. If it were up to Çoban, the same would happen this year. “Coronavirus is still among us, which is why these measures should apply once again.”   

Turbulent phase
However, the researchers believe caution is required in the interpretation of the results. Not only because only a small proportion of the almost 87,000 students who received the survey actually completed it, but also because their answers might be biased.

In addition, some of the issues indicated may be the result of the turbulent life phase students are in: young adults are becoming independent, starting relationships, identities are being formed etc.

Caring Universities plans to send out a new survey in January.