With young people having their university experience disrupted due to the pandemic and facing isolation and uncertainty about the future, student mental health has understandably taken a hit.
March 4 marks University Mental Health Day, where higher education institutions, student leaders and mental health charities come together to encourage university bosses to make student mental health a priority.
During an academic year like no other, The Big Issue spoke to three students and asked them how they were coping through the pandemic.
Michael-Akolade Ayodeji, studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University
As a young care leaver from an ethnic minority background, it was a big achievement for Michael to secure a place at Oxford University.
But for many reasons, including the fact he has caring responsibilities for a relative and wasn’t able to work alongside his degree, the second year PPE student had to postpone his studies.
“I didn’t feel I could do my top academic work whilst worrying about my family member who I’m caring for during lockdown and a flat I’m supposed to pay for when I have no income coming in,” he said.
Michael, originally from Birmingham, said his college, University College, had been very supportive when he found himself struggling, even helping him find housing when he became temporarily homeless.
“My particular situation is very unique. I have been lucky in the sense that when I became homeless my college stepped in and decided to house me, which I am very grateful for,” he added.
“But can you imagine what being homeless in a pandemic does to you, mental health wise, with the feeling of owing this big institution when you already have a distinct imposter syndrome? It has opened my eyes to the plight of people who are homeless without access to the support that I had.”
The 21-year-old has been leading campus campaigns to get her university to provide more support. She described students as feeling largely “forgotten about and ignored”, with bosses not doing enough to provide adequate mental health support.
“On the whole, universities haven’t been great in responding to Covid,” she added.
“I think Manchester has been particularly bad, especially in terms of releasing new procedures to do with assessments and exams. It’s just another thing to add on top of already existing stress.”
Fritha also said the Government hadn’t done enough to support – or even acknowledge – the problems faced by young people.
She added: “When you watch the [Government] press conferences, they go through primary school, secondary school, A-Level students, and then they never seem to get to university students.
“Well, what about us? Why have you forgotten about us?”
Holly McCormack, studying Digital Journalism at Strathclyde University
Mature student Holly McCormack has had a tough year.
The 35-year-old, who said she has long-term mental health problems, has been shielding for almost a year due to her asthma.
She told The Big Issue it had been a struggle but explained she had started a new therapy programme to help her keep going.
“I think it helps to have a focus and something that you are striving towards,” she said.
“Because if you lose your routine, you can go a wee bit off-piste.
“The most important thing is to realise when things are hard and pick up the phone and speak to someone that you know and trust.”
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