Leading student health and well-being expert & GP Dr Dominique Thompson has warned that the last year of isolation may leave a lasting impact on university students post-pandemic.
“Students are now navigating unique challenges whilst trying to maintain their well-being and mental health at uni, with many not equipped with the knowledge and tools to manage successfully. With many wanting to make up for lost time on their return to university, many may be dealing with social media dependency, damaging drinking habits, and financial stress.”
One of the most worrying concerns according to Dr Dom is the significant increase in student loneliness recorded during successive lockdowns, with research showing 44% of those aged 18-24 said they have experienced loneliness living under lockdown.
“Having been subjected to such uncertainty and social isolation, the knock-on effect for many has been of damage to student relationships and mental health and made feelings of loneliness more prevalent. Humans are inherently social, meaning that we rely on social interaction and cooperation to survive and thrive in our environment; once you strip this away, you are left feeling lonely and vulnerable, and in some cases leaving a last impact”
The pandemic has also increased the reliance on social media. For students in particular, these apps have facilitated escapism and distraction from what is going on in the world, but excessive use can fuel feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and FOMO (fear of missing out)- particularly with stressful and difficult news stories.
“Students may have got into bad habits over the past year, with some developing a dependency on their social media. Changing these more damaging behaviours will take time but failure to do so could potentially have a long-term impact both on students’ studies and their mental well-being in the coming years.”
Since the lockdown of last year student life has looked a lot different. The closing of pubs and clubs across the country has deprived students of the drinking hubs they once had. According to new research, three in 10 young adults (aged 18-34) are drinking at higher levels than before lockdown began, and are more likely than the rest of the population to be drinking alone.
“As lockdown restrictions ease, there’s a danger that those students whose tolerances may have reduced over lockdown may put themselves in harm’s way by launching back into socialising and potentially heavy drinking to ‘make up for lost time’ […] Those suffering with mental health issues may have used alcohol as a coping mechanism during lockdown, so there is a potential danger that such students will continue to rely on drinking to counter the stress of university life, and may need additional support from their university.”
In an effort to help students navigate the increased pressures and uncertainties of university brought about by the pandemic, Dr Dominique Thompson launched ‘Student well-being: a guide to building better mental health in university’ in partnership with student accommodation search engine Mystudenthalls.com.
The guide includes tips, advice and insights on how students can tackle issues such as student loneliness, and how to manage exam stress and academic pressures.
“Come September, most students will find they are quickly able to successfully readjust and navigate social situations with ease. However, as students return to in-person teaching, the repercussions of almost a year of isolation may begin to show. Students will have to tackle all the usual transition challenges but will not have socialised properly for 18 months.”