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Student mental health during coronavirus

Whether you have an existing mental health problem, or you're starting to find things difficult, the pandemic has put a huge amount of extra strain on students.

How is coronavirus affecting student mental health?

Coronavirus is affecting student mental health in many different ways. This includes uncertainty about what student life will be like for this next year.

Mind’s coronavirus survey results revealed the following:

  • Nearly one in three adults (30%) and over one in three young people (34%) said that their mental health has got much worse during the pandemic.
  • Over half of young people (59%) said they will enjoy school, college or university more once restrictions ease. But around one in five (21%) do not think they will enjoy school, college or university without restrictions.
  • Young people want more information and education about mental health in school, college, university or work.

I'm a 45-year-old mature student and should be writing my dissertation as it’s my final year. Instead I am frozen with fear, my brain is not working and I’m failing miserably.

There is no right way to feel about going to university, whether you are a new or returning student.

You may feel a mix of emotions, or different emotions at different times. You might also have different feelings than those around you about the same things.

Some of these conflicting experiences could be:

  • Fewer restrictions. You might be happy and excited about being at university with fewer restrictions than last year. Or you might feel worried or concerned about the lack of restrictions, particularly if you have a health condition or have experienced loss due to coronavirus.
  • Masks and face coverings. You might not be able to wear a mask or face covering, while others around you are comfortable wearing one. You may feel stigmatised by others for this. Or you may experience stigma if you do decide to wear a mask in some situations.
  • Social events. Some people may look forward to being able to attend social events as part of their university experience. But for others this may be something they feel uncertain about. It may feel especially tough if others around you are excited about social events, and you feel pressure to join in. This might bring up difficult feelings like social phobia (also known as social anxiety), even if you aren’t concerned about coronavirus.
  • In person teaching and learning. Not every university will be teaching in the same way. You may feel relieved if you get to learn in person, or you might feel uncomfortable with this. Some people find online or remote learning better for them, and others prefer face-to-face teaching. You might feel frustrated, concerned or sad if you know people who are learning in different ways to you.
  • Self-isolation. Even though restrictions have eased, most universities will need you to self-isolate if you catch coronavirus or are in contact with someone who has. This could make you feel anxious, worried, or stressed about your studies, socialising and your wellbeing.

See our page coronavirus and your wellbeing for tips on how to manage these feelings. Our student life pages have general information on managing your wellbeing as a student. Our pages on bereavement may help if you have lost someone during the pandemic.

Student Space also has lots of resources which may help you to look after your mental health while studying.

Being cocooned at home has meant we haven’t had to worry about going out and about and seeing people. Despite lockdown taking away these pressures temporarily, the fear of having to eventually return to normality looms in the distance.

Urgent support for student mental health

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it's a mental health emergency.

Get emergency advice

If you're struggling and need to talk to someone, there are many online services and helplines with trained people ready to listen. These people will not judge you. They could help you make sense of what you're feeling.

Our list of helplines and listening services has more options you could try. And our page on helping yourself in a crisis has more ideas for supporting yourself. Our page of useful contacts for students also has details of organisations who may be able to help.

How to ease your way out of lockdown when you have social anxiety

Although I can’t wait to go back to uni, I am reminded every day that soon I will have to socialise once again with people I haven’t seen in a long time.

What will university be like this year?

Since restrictions have been eased, universities have been able to make their own decision about how to manage coronavirus on campus. While universities have to follow general guidance, not all places will follow it in the same way. This means that the university you attend might have different rules to other ones. 

To find out what rules your university has in place during the pandemic, you will need to contact your university directly or check the rules on their website.

Will I need to wear a mask?

Since the government rules for masks and face coverings have been relaxed, most universities have been allowed to create their own guidance. Your university may:

  • make it mandatory to wear a mask, unless you are exempt
  • encourage you to wear a mask, but not make it mandatory
  • make it mandatory to wear a mask in certain places but not others, such as in lectures, university buildings or cafes
  • allow you to decide whether you want to wear a mask or not.

If the way your university is managing mask rules brings up difficult feelings, our information on masks and mental health may help.

Will my teaching be in person?

Each university will have a different way of teaching. Even within your university, some courses might be taught differently to others. This may depend on how much practical and in person learning your university thinks each course needs.

Your teaching may be:

  • all in person
  • a mixture of online and in person learning (sometimes called ‘blended’ learning)
  • mostly online learning
  • remote learning, on request. Not all universities will offer this to UK-based students, and you may have to give reasons why you cannot be on campus.

If you need to self-isolate, your university should offer support and a chance to let you continue your learning online. They should offer this no matter what the normal rules are for your course.

How might my finances be affected?

You may be worried about how the pandemic is affecting your finances,  especially your access to student finance. These pages have guidance on how to deal with student finance during the pandemic:

Will I be able to go on trips or my year abroad?

If your university course involves travel, you may be worried about whether that will be able to happen.

The rules about travelling abroad can change depending on different national restrictions and the spread of coronavirus. You also may have to change your plans if you have to self-isolate or if travel rules change in England and Wales.

You might find it difficult to make long-term plans about travel. This can create feelings of uncertainty about completing your course or having the student experience you expected.

You can find more information on the UK Government guidance on international travel for students, if you are an international student or planning on studying abroad. You can contact your university if your course involves trips or time abroad to see what support they have in place. 

Although I can’t wait to go back to uni, I am reminded every day that soon I will have to socialise once again with people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Student Space support and guidance

Student Space is a website set up by the charity Student Minds. It helps you get the coronavirus support you need, with information in both English and Welsh. Their resources are free to use.

The website gives you:

Their student support services include peer support groups and workshops for:

The pandemic has taken priority over everything in our lives right now, but there has never been as important a time to look after our mental health too.

This information was last updated on 18 August 2021.

References and bibliography available on request.

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