Mental health investigation reveals toll of Covid-19 pandemic on students

By and

As a result of lockdown, Durham students have reported feeling “isolated”, “abandoned” and “alone”. Data collected by Durham Polling revealed that students would feel “scammed”, “devastated” and “depressed” if face-to-face teaching were to be removed.

When asked by Palatinate what support they were given during periods of isolation, students said they received “none”, “very little”, or that their friends brought them food and they were given links to Zoom welfare calls.

One student disclosed that “the welfare team emailed me once at the start of the isolation period”, whilst another said they only received moral support from their housemates who were also isolating.

“I feel isolated and not cared for by the University.”

In particular, students highlighted their sense of loneliness. One said: “I feel isolated and not cared for by the University. I worry for my future.” Some pointed to “a pervading sense of uncertainty”, “feeling trapped and overwhelmed”, and “disputes with housemates over how strictly to follow rules”, as reasons for their declining mental state.

Students also commented on the “lack of interaction with people, the monotony of days”, and the “limited social life, limited exercise, and no change of scenery or spontaneous events”.

One student mentioned that “in the past, coming back up to Durham could feel overwhelming but I always knew where I stood, whereas now that all the norms we rely on have been uprooted it’s hard to know how to ‘do uni’ in this context.”

Another suggested that, in order to help improve students’ mental health, the University “could publicise [access to mental health services] better”, for they “don’t put anything about it in the emails, as far as I know.” However, the majority of the students surveyed by Palatinate said they know how to access University mental health support. Half of the students also said they would feel comfortable talking to welfare services about their mental health.

In 2019, one in ten students sought counselling.

Data by Durham Polling also shows that 53% of students would feel negative if face-to-face teaching was removed completely.

Data collected by savethestudent.org showed that two in three students nationwide say their mental health has suffered due to Covid-19, with 49% of students saying they worry about loneliness. 67% of students nationwide want at least some in-person teaching right now.

Data published by Durham University reveals that the number of Durham students seeking counselling is increasing each year. In 2019, one in ten students sought counselling. By comparison, in the 2014-15 academic year, 8.7% of the total student population was known to the counselling service, whilst in 2015-16 it was 9.1%. Over the last five years, nearly two thirds of students who sought counselling were female.

The number of third year students who seek counselling from the University is around seven times higher than first year students. In the 2018-19 academic year, 114 first year students sought counselling, as opposed to the 798 third year students. In 2014-15, there were 81 first years compared to 616 third years.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority.”

Sam Dale and Joanne Race

In response to Palatinate’s findings, Durham University issued a statement on behalf of Sam Dale, Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, and Joanne Race, Director of Human Resources and Organisation Development.

They said, “The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority. We remain extremely mindful of the impact that Covid-19 restrictions, which are necessary to limit the spread of the virus, have on our University community, and we are committed to supporting those affected through it. All students have full access to a range of pastoral support through their colleges and professional support services such as our counselling team.

“To ensure these services are Covid-secure they are currently being delivered predominantly online. Our advisers are also trained to signpost to telephone or digital services including those used by the NHS. We also have supportive structures and services in place for our staff, ensuring they can raise problems and seek help – be this from their line management, Occupational Health, Health and Safety, the University Counselling Service or HR and Organisation Development.

“All staff also have access to our Employee Assistance Programme which provides a wide range of support, including access to telephone counselling. We are developing a Health and Wellbeing Strategy, with the aim of creating a more responsible, attractive and productive place to work and study. We look forward to announcing further initiatives in our whole University approach to health and wellbeing.”

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