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Coronavirus and Higher Education students’ mental health: is it depression at first sight?

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) February-March 2021 survey shows students’ Covid-induced lonesomeness is overwhelming, negatively affecting their mental health.

On Wednesday March 10, the ONS published a report on its survey conducted between February 19 and March 1 on the effects of the pandemic on young adults enrolled in Higher Education (HE) in England. The results show that mental health issues are on the rise during lockdown.

As Tim Gibbs of the ONS Public Services Analysis Team states in his analysis, “over a quarter are feeling lonely often or always, a significantly higher amount than the adult population. Nearly two-thirds still report a worsening of their well-being and mental health since the beginning of the autumn 2020 half term.”

According to the survey, the latest lockdown did more bad than good to university students’ mental health, with 26% of students reported feeling lonely “often or always”. Moreover, 63% of students disclosed that their well-being and mental health “had worsened since the start of the autumn term 2020”. However, it appears as if levels have remained constant since January 2021.

The report mentions that a comparatively smaller number of adults were feeling as lonely as their younger counterparts (8%). Average adult life satisfaction over the surveyed period was recorded to be at 6.4 out of 10. The students’ average increased from the previous survey in January, from 4.8 to 5.1.

With regards to living arrangements, the study revealed that 85% of students were still living at the same address as they had been since the beginning of the term in September 2020. Of those who had moved address since then, figures showed that 43% were thinking about going back home before June, whilst more than half (55%) were not planning on returning at all.

Together with the rent strikes that plagued university accommodations and HE institutions’ yet unannounced plans for academic safety nets, students from all years saw their future plans waver amidst all of the uncertainty surrounding them.

Overall, the lack of support given to students was made crystal clear all over the British Isles through a number of social media outlets – with the ONS’ report only citing the numbers. At the time of the survey, the 4-step roadmap out of lockdown had not yet been announced, and strains of Coronavirus popping up around the UK and worldwide had crushing effects on students especially, as their university experience appeared to be all but tarnished. With lockdown in the UK dissuading or prohibiting friends and family from meeting up and comforting one another, the ONS survey seemed to confirm that mental health crises among students were at the order of the day.

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