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How the pandemic damaged college students’ mental health more than medical professionals

How the pandemic damaged college students’ mental health more than medical professionals

Bolton, England — Nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers around the world have been grappling with significant levels of stress and distress during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being surrounded by seriously ill patients and seeing so many people lose their lives to coronavirus infection has certainly taken a toll on those in the trenches. Surprisingly, new research suggests that health care workers may not have experienced the worst psychological toll. British researchers report that university students’ mental health has been more severely affected by the pandemic than healthcare professionals.

COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown measures have had a “profound and long-lasting impact” on the psychological wellbeing of undergraduate students, according to the study. By May 2021, researchers found that levels of mental distress among UK students had soared more than three times compared to the pre-pandemic period. This exceeds reported levels of suffering among healthcare workers.

The study, which monitored students’ wellbeing through 2020 and 2021, reported that undergraduate students at UK universities have endured significant and prolonged psychological distress and anxiety during the pandemic. They also reported a “significant” decline in levels of well-being, happiness and life satisfaction compared to pre-pandemic measures.

Research conducted by the University of Bolton highlights the dramatic effect strict lockdown measures are having on students. The closure of universities, the imposition of independent learning and the absence of face-to-face lectures or peer interaction have caused significant disruption to education and future career prospects.

College students wearing masks during lectures to protect against coronavirus/COVID-19
Students were asked about their mental health and wellbeing in May, June and July 2020 and May 2021.
(© Syda Productions – stock.adobe.com)

“In small student residences, undergraduates were often cut off from friends and close family and unable to rely on their usual routes to find physical and emotional support,” said study co-author and associate professor Dr Chathurika Kannangara. at Bolton Psychology Department. press release. “Additionally, the prolonged closure of public entertainment and social facilities such as restaurants, bars and clubs has completely removed the normal social aspect of university life.”

Whenever the pandemic peaks, mental health issues also peak.

The study followed 554 UK university students from May 2020 to May 2021, asking them about their mental health and wellbeing at four key points during the pandemic. The results showed that psychological distress increased over the first 12 months of the pandemic, with levels of distress worsening during peak periods of COVID-19 cases and strict quarantine phases.

The data showed that students’ psychological distress scores were slightly worse than the general group across England. The study also found that students consistently reported higher and more severe levels of psychological distress than health professionals in the UK during the pandemic.

“Even in May 2020, in the first wave of data collection, psychological distress scores were already well above pre-pandemic levels,” explains Rosie Allen, lead author of the study and a research assistant at Bolton. “This may be due to the fact that lockdown restrictions were extended for a further three weeks on 16 April 2020 and that on 5 May 2020 the UK had the second highest daily death toll in the world.”

However, some improvements were seen during periods when rules and restrictions were relaxed. For example, anxiety levels fell ‘significantly’ in June and July 2020 as lockdown measures began to ease.

The study also looked at students’ wellbeing and happiness, noting that there was a significant decline between May 2020 and May 2021 in both periods. One of the co-authors argues that a combination of factors may have prevented UK university students from ‘thriving’ during the pandemic. .

The researchers called for additional support for students following widespread changes to higher education since the COVID-19 outbreak. They recommended the introduction of new mental health services accessible through social media platforms or mobile phone applications, saying these resources could “combat the stigma associated with seeking professional help and ease the burden on overwhelmed mental health services”. “You can do it,” he said.

The research results are British Journal of Educational Research.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.