October 25, 2020

Coronavirus: Students say starting university during the pandemic is impacting their mental health

September 25, 2020

The first few weeks of university are usually a time for making new friends, easing yourself into your course, and becoming acquainted with the city you now call home.

But thousands of teenagers are facing uncertainty as they begin student life with coronavirus restrictions in place.

The Nightline listening service, where volunteers take calls and emails from students in distress, has become active early this year as fears grow about the impact the pandemic will have on young people's mental health.

Here we spoke to five students about their experiences.

Grace Marshall, English Literature student at Durham University

Grace, who arrived at university on Thursday, said she is "incredibly nervous" about the year ahead and feels a bit like she is "jumping blindfolded into the unknown".

The 18-year-old, who is originally from Manchester, said she believes going to university would have been quite challenging anyway but this year it has been "very daunting".

She continued: "I have been experiencing mental health issues unfortunately.

"I used to suffer from anxiety at secondary school and unfortunately it reared its head again during lockdown, just because everything in the world was so crazy.

"Everything just felt a bit too much, and then to add onto that there is the pressure of going to university."

Grace also said the last few months of lockdown have been tough because feeling isolated can trigger her anxiety.

However, she has already met some of her fellow students online through social media and has been speaking with them in WhatsApp groups.

She said: "I decided a few weeks back to take a leap and be like 'guys I'm really freaking out about this', and everyone was so supportive.

"I feel like everyone thinks they're in the same boat this year because we're all experiencing the same sort of fears.

"Normally with anxiety you heighten those fears, but this year it's real you know.

"I feel like people are all feeling the same sort of trepidation."

Grace also said she feels like she will be missing out on the typical university experience because the studying and social aspects have been altered so much by the pandemic.

Natalie Sodzi, Politics and Sociology student at the University of Bristol

Natalie has said she is struggles with anxiety but is an outgoing person who is looking forward to making new friends.

The 18-year-old, originally from Gloucester, continued: "The restrictions and stuff are taking a toll. It's not great.

"I definitely feel like I'm missing out on the university experience work-wise and socially."

Natalie said the fact she and her fellow students are in the same position has been a big help but she feels unable to go out.

She continued: "I would be worried neighbours were looking at us and stuff and thinking that you're just trying to make the pandemic worse.

"It's stressful."

Natasha Parker, English Literature student at the University of York

Natasha said she would be "incredibly excited about university under normal circumstances" but has been considering dropping out over the last couple of months.

The 18-year-old, who is originally from Maidenhead in Berkshire, continued: "It's incredibly daunting starting university at the moment because we don't know if we're going to be able to go home for Christmas.

"With so much going on and so little confirmed it's a very confusing time and I know lots of people this morning were messaging me saying they were trying to drop out."

Natasha has struggled with anxiety and depression over the years and said she was bullied a lot at primary and secondary school.

She therefore hoped university would be a good opportunity to meet new people she had lots of things in common with.

Natasha said: "But now the social aspect of university has been completely diminished by everything that is going on and university has evolved into education with no social component.

"I think for somebody who doesn't make friends easily and with no opportunity to make new friends - it's a very daunting prospect."

Natasha also fears coronavirus guidance might be updated to mean she cannot travel home for Christmas.

Leo Quartermain, Law student at the University of Manchester

Leo said he has been feeling lonely since he arrived at university last week and "you feel bad for going out" during the pandemic so "you just don't".

The 18-year-old, who is originally from Southend-on-Sea in Essex, continued: "It's very strange, it's quite not what I expected at all really but you've got to make do with what you've got.

"I feel like I'm missing out on the university experience big time, but once we start learning and stuff I might have a different perspective on it."

Leo's lectures and seminars haven't started yet and he is unable to mix with people from other households because of lockdown rules.

He added: "It's against the rules. So it's little things that make me down at times, but I'm sure there are people who obviously feel worse."

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Cara Dunlop, Psychology student at Northumbria University

Cara feels she hasn't struggled as much as other students because she is the first person in her family to go to university and so has arrived without expectations.

She added that the experience has nevertheless been "quite daunting" and she has not been able to mix with anybody from her course.

Cara continued: "You hear all the stories about Scotland where there are over 1,000 freshers having to self-isolate.

"In the back of your head you're kind of thinking - 'oh is that our going to be our accommodation block'."

Cara also feels she is missing out on the university experience, and said: "I've had a couple of induction lectures this week and they've been really interesting but I don't think you can have same the level of interaction online as you can in person.

"There's also the fact that freshers' week is usually a time for going out and mixing with people - we can go out but we can't mix with people outside of the people from our flat."

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