The mental health of students is not being cared for.
Since universities have reopened in September, at least one student has died from suicide every week – this unprecedented statistic reflects the complete neglect of young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. There needs to be a greater network of support for students during this time, particularly on the government’s part.
The attitudes of universities have fundamentally ignored the mental health of students. The system of self-isolation implemented has left many with virtually no support networks – countless students have had to isolate in their rooms, with no real support from anyone in the institution. Universities have underestimated the importance of their students mental health, and there has been little new investment in counsellors or welfare. Whilst trying to protect the physical health of students, mental health was disregarded as secondary and less important given the circumstances.
This, combined with little to no in-person teaching, and the restricted ability to interact with peers has completely isolated university students, leaving them in a sticky situation with little to no help. This has to change and the health of university students needs more respect.
It is also important to mention the more long-term factors that have contributed to this crisis, particularly the Conservative Party’s policy of austerity. Since the 2010 election, the government has decreased funding to the NHS mental health services, which now find themselves unable to support young people during the challenges faced during the pandemic. On average, 150 young people are denied access to mental health treatment daily.
Yet the university mental health crisis does not start when one packs their bags and moves into halls – schools are just as responsible as any other education branch. Students sitting GCSEs and A level exams in the summer have been informed of a three-week delay, which has put many in a difficult place.
Having already lost months of learning throughout the pandemic, paired with the uncertainty around exams, means that many fear their mocks are going to be used as their final grade if the exams were to be cancelled. This has forced students into having to make up for time lost during lockdown, all whilst revising for exams ahead. If that’s not the perfect mix for anxiety and overall poor mental health, what is?
The bottom line is that students and young people have been forsaken and forgotten in this pandemic, whilst being blamed for the increase in cases; many are forced in university halls with no friends or family near, some are suffering from the systematic defunding of mental health services by the Conservative Party, and GCSE and A level students are trapped in a stressful crisis, simultaneously trying to prepare for upcoming exams and cramming last year’s material.
If the government does not address the student mental health crisis in students, which it had a significant hand in creating, the students of our nation – those who will be desperately needed to run it in the future – will keep suffering needlessly. Funding needs to be concentrated on young people’s mental health services; the stress of GCSEs and A levels students needs to be taken seriously, by cancelling or limiting the content of exams; university students need to stop being blamed for a surge in cases and their voices need to be heard instead.
There is a saddening but very real possibility that we will have to encounter many more suicides and a surge in mental health issues unless the government and education system commit to providing counselling and welfare services to students.