The Guardian spoke to four university students about the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health.
‘I was just so lonely’
Bella Brown, 20, a first year history of art student at UCL, has struggled with mental health problems including anxiety and depression for many years, but said the pandemic had exacerbated these.
“When I moved to London, it was really hard to meet new people,” she said. “My housemates have been going into university three days a week, but I only have an hour-and-a-half in person, so I was just so lonely.”
This was made worse when she was forced to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus last week. However, after reaching out to university support services, she is now due to begin wellbeing workshops.
Brown said she found the shift to remote learning “overwhelming”. “I enrolled late, and got missed off the Microsoft Teams group for one of my classes,” she said. “When I asked about it, my department told me I’d missed eight weeks of classes and threatened to make me drop the module, but it was totally a miscommunication.”
‘I don’t feel valued here’
Nirmal Sunny, 20, an international student from India, is in his second year of a computer science degree at the University of Bedfordshire and feeling stressed after he was erroneously sanctioned for not paying his fees, a month before they were due.
“The sanction came out of the blue, but at the time one of my units disappeared. I have lost access to classes and lectures and am supposed to submit an assignment in two days. I can no longer access the online portal. I’ve been emailing everyone I know at the university for two weeks, but nobody is responding – I just get out of office emails.”
Sunny fears that he will have to repeat the year. He was going to see his family in southern India in August, but called the trip off because of the pandemic and will spend the Christmas holiday in his flat.
“I don’t know who to contact. All my friends are taking different units this year, and I haven’t been on campus in eight months or so. If people are ill with coronavirus and on leave, surely somebody needs to cover for them? I’m confused and worried. I feel the university is being very irresponsible. I’m going to pay my fees, but I don’t feel valued here.”
‘There were no counselling appointments until October 2021’
Regan, a 22-year-old student at a university in the Midlands, said she had found it difficult to cope with stress and anxiety during the pandemic.
“Having no social interaction because of lockdown has made me more scared to go out and has worsened my anxiety,” she said. “I had become a more confident person at uni, but this year I’ve gone straight back to how I was before.”
Regan also said that while many of her teachers had been “lovely”, others didn’t seem to understand the strain on students’ mental health. “I think sometimes they forget we’re human and also struggling,” she said.
When she tried to access university counselling services online, the slots were booked up until October 2021. After sending a series of emails, she managed to get an appointment, but worries others wouldn’t be so proactive and would lose out.
“The workload is extremely stressful, and moving to a new place is intimidating,” she said. “To have university all online makes it even harder.”
‘For the good of my mental health I don’t think staying is a good idea’
Lakshya Jain, 21, is a final year maths student at the University of Edinburgh and concerned that she might infect family when she returns home.
“I was tested on 7 December and it came back negative, but I still may get Covid in the next 14 days before I go home, where I live with my 76-year-old grandma and my dad who has been shielding since March. There is no point in the university offering a test so far away from people’s departure date. I don’t know anybody leaving before 18 December – a lot can change in two weeks.”
Jain is also worried about the reliability of the tests. “These are lateral flow rapid tests where you get the results in 30 mins, and the university has said that anyone who tests positive needs to go get a proper test in an NHS test centre, so you wonder whether these are any good.”
Despite her concerns, she feels she has no other option but to take the risk of travelling home.
“For my mental health and wellbeing I think staying in Edinburgh is not a good idea either. I love my university, but they underestimated how isolated students would be. I just need a break from Edinburgh and from being an adult.”