With how the COVID-19 outbreak is panning out, the psychological issues which come with it have rapidly intensified its public health burden. Emerging research assessing the mental health implications of COVID-19 have identified an increased rate of moderate-to-severe depressive and anxious symptoms among the general public. These widespread outbreaks are linked with adverse mental health consequences.
But further research that investigates beyond the general public is needed so that we can fully understand the individualised disruption of lives and routines due to COVID-19 – along with its associated psychological impacts.
For university students, increased levels of psychological distress and negative academic consequences are prevalent even before the COVID-19. Then, as a result of social distancing measures implemented in response to COVID-19, higher education institutions have shifted to an emergency online learning format. As can be expected, this worsened the academic stressors for many students.
Based from previous research which looked into the impact of academic disruptions on students, it is reasonable to assume that students may experience reduced motivation towards their studies, increased pressures to learn independently, abandonment of daily routines, and potentially higher rates of dropout – as a result of these measures.
There are already a number of studies which have explored the impact of COVID-19 on student education and well-being. One study reported that approximately 25% of their sample reported experiencing anxiety symptoms, which were positively correlated with increased concerns about academic delays, economic effects of the pandemic, and impacts on daily life.
Among the many student surveys administered worldwide, one survey by YoungMinds revealed that 83% of young respondents agreed that the pandemic worsened their pre-existing mental health conditions, mainly due to school closures, loss of routine, and restricted social connections.
Due to the increase of academic stressors in a population with heightened pre-existing stress levels and a potentially reduced ability to rely on typical coping strategies – such as family who themselves may be experiencing heightened distress – the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented mental health burden among students. This urgently requires further examination and immediate intervention.
These findings highlight the multiple factors contributing to students’ distress during this pandemic; however, there remains much to be learned about the psychological impacts facing students and what can be done to reduce their negative effects.
A timely call to action, from universities and stakeholders to examine the impact of COVID-19 on student mental health is needed. Priorities should include the disturbances to educational progress, adaptations of habitual coping strategies, and approaches academic institutions have taken to reduce adverse academic and psychosocial outcomes.
As pointed out by Rona dela Rosa, a researcher from Bulacan State University: ‘The lockdown brought by COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the daily routine: work arrangement, socialisation, and even the educational settings. These changes may bring anxiety to those who are directly affected.’
New research may guide student-centred support programmes and mitigate the long-term negative implications for student education and mental health. As we come to terms with the persistent realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures that are taken now to support a vulnerable student population will help address the overall global mental health burden associated with this period of extraordinary disruption and uncertainty.
Pragati Shukla is an MSc student at Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University.