COVID-19: Putting Aussie students’ mental health to the test

10 September 2020

Written by: Ellenie Case

University students facing added anxiety and stress from the effects caused by COVID-19.

“I’m a 20-year-old university student working part time at two jobs to pay for the necessities of everyday life. Along with the stress of university and assessment deadlines I have also dealt with the loss of one of my jobs due to COVID-19. This has brought uncertainty about what my future will look like and left me unsure about how long it will be before life is somewhat ‘normal’ again.” -Maddison Sheppard, a second-year paramedicine student at Victoria University.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way or another. Many of us are feeling alone and worried. For students at university already dealing with stress and anxiety of life in a pandemic, the move to online learning and changes to their courses is challenging their mental health.

Maddison Sheppard like many students, has been isolated from her friends and peers. She says COVID-19 has been tough on her mental health.

“Staying at home, away from others, it’s created a sense of loneliness and sadness as it’s a situation I’m not used to or was expecting,” Sheppard told upstart.

Where university studies are concerned, Sheppard says while the switch to online learning has made it easier to attend class and have the time to complete assessments, it’s been hard to stay motivated.

“It’s a lot easier to just not attend or not watch the lecture/class so it can be tempting to just do your own thing at home instead of uni work,” Sheppard said.

Dr Siann Bowman, an expert and teacher in the field of youth mental health, says there are several ways COVID-19 is affecting students’ mental health.

“They’re experiencing increased stress and distress due to social isolation, job losses, parental job losses, financial worries, vocation progress halted, reduced employment opportunities, risks of homelessness and couch surfing,” Bowman told upstart.

Australian youth (18-24 years old) already have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group,  Every year, one in four young Australians are at risk of being affected by a mental health issue.

Dr Bowman says that when we’re feeling anxious or stressed, the ability to concentrate, find motivation or energy are affected.

Although she thinks most of her students that she teaches at La Trobe University have performed well in lockdown as they have very little else to do, some have struggled.

“Some students have had to defer because of money worries, need to work or changing their housing,” she said.

Like many other Victorians, students are dealing with a lot of loss during their second lockdown. On top of everything else COVID-19 has tested them with they’re also experiencing deprivation from their friends, family and jobs which can severely impact their mental health.

Sheppard believes that this loneliness is the main reason she’s struggling personally. Before the pandemic began, one in three young adults (18-25) experienced problematic levels of loneliness. Which is the type of loneliness students are facing and dealing with right now.

“COVID-19’s affected the ability to have connections with those closest to you like your friends,” she said.

So, what can we do?

The problem within the current crisis for universities is the lack of evidence on how to base their services to support their students at this time. COVID-19 is a rare pandemic and little is known on the challenges faced within it.

It’s uncharted waters for everyone, but strategies that focus on promoting good social health can protect students from loneliness and improve mental health.

Whilst Sheppard felt the second lockdown has been more challenging than the first one, she’s more prepared this time around.

“I find comfort in the fact that a lot of the time they are feeling the same way and can relate.”

Knowing this is a challenging time for so many, the Australian Government has invested $24.2 million into mental health care, to supporting not just students but all Australians.

They’re also working to fast track access to mental health services for young people aged 12-25 seeking Headspace appointments.

Dr Bowman says if stressful things start to happen, reach out to someone you trust.

“Talk about it and share. If you don’t have anyone you trust, find a service online like Headspace who you can talk things through with.”


Article: Ellenie Case is a third-year Bachelor of Media and Communications (journalism) student at LaTrobe University.

PHOTO: Person writing on notebook by Julia M Cameron, available here and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.