Cambridge students share the impact Covid-19 has had on their mental health
‘To expect the same academic output as a normal term is unrealistic’
CN: Discussions about mental health.
Being a Cambridge student can be difficult even at the best of times. The intense workload, prep for supervisions and somehow trying to fit socialising in between everything else can create a pretty stressful environment. This year, we are all living with the added, constant stress of a global pandemic, and the impact on student mental health needs to be considered.
It might be difficult to navigate the various services offered on a college or university-wide level and it can be seen from various posts on Camfess that students are struggling with their mental health. It’s important that there is continuing support from the university and colleges throughout the year and that support doesn’t drop off, especially during self-isolation. If you test positive for the virus and have to isolate for two weeks alone in your room, the same deadlines appear to apply with the university expecting the same quality of work, although generosity with deadlines will vary from supervisor to supervisor.
For me personally, being able to spend my free time socialising with friends during the last two years really helped me unwind and let go of all of my stress. Having people to complain to and let off steam with is a key way for many students to handle the intensity of a Cambridge term. Understandably, this is not an option for many Cambridge students this term, so extra support from the University and colleges with regard to the mental health of students is necessary.
Across the university, as it is across the country, students’ mental health, like many other groups in society, seems to be suffering. The Tab Cambridge spoke to students who are finding the Cambridge term in a pandemic especially challenging on their mental health:
“The lack of separation between studying and downtime is making me procrastinate and burn out really fast”
Sophie is a third-year student studying HSPS and she has shared her experience of this term so far with The Cambridge Tab: “I’ve always found meeting the expectations of the quality and quantity of work in Cambridge a bit difficult. Adding a global pandemic into the mix has made everything feel less manageable.”
Sophie understands that the measures within the University space are necessary but says not being able to socialise is impacting her mental health as well as her work. “While we understand all the measures are necessary for saving lives, the reality of university under coronavirus means a lot less socialising with friends and a lot more sitting at your desk or in your room with a view of your desk. The lack of separation between studying and downtime is making me procrastinate and burn out really fast.”
She also feels that the university seems to be expecting high quality work without considering the mental state of students: “I don’t feel like the university has given adequate consideration to the simple fact that a pandemic gives us all a level of anxiety and stress that is inescapable and to expect the same academic output as a normal term is unrealistic.”
“You have to organise meet-ups as the chance of a spontaneous encounter is virtually impossible”
Socialising at university is very different this year, as Julie* says: “Places you’d normally bump into people such as hall suddenly become less of a social and more of a functional place. This has been a very hard adjustment for some, including myself, as it’s suddenly meant socialising is something you have to actively plan; you have to organise meet-ups as the chance of a spontaneous encounter is virtually impossible.”
She also feels that the constant level of uncertainty around Covid has impacted daily life: “Not knowing whether the next day you’ll be able to continue living the life you want to lead or having to be in your room for 2 weeks can be nerve-wracking. Everything you do – from the smallest of things like opening doors, going into shops or having coffee with friends – all have a degree of risk. Personally, the degree of uncertainty relating to Covid is something I’ve really struggled with.”
She adds: “I am however glad to be back and with my friends, although it is quite the change from last year!”
“I still feel hesitant to tell supervisors I’m struggling in general because I don’t feel like I have enough of a reason”
Since being back at University this year, Alice* has felt the impact of the ongoing pandemic on her university work: “I feel like coronavirus has made this year much harder than any other year, yet the work and the volume of it has stayed the same.”
She shared how the added stress of the virus is affecting her ability to focus: “I find myself getting more easily distracted and upset, and while work is sometimes a helpful grounding thing for me, I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone”
When she is struggling to keep up with work, she fears may not have a valid excuse: “I still feel hesitant to tell supervisors I’m struggling in general because I don’t feel like I have enough of a reason – I think they would wonder what sets my experience/struggles apart from anyone else’s.”
“I’m always questioning whether it’s safe to go out and see my friends even though I am allowed to”
Becky* also feels a higher level of stress due to the pandemic: “Now with general uncertainty about what is going to happen, I always have a higher level of anxiety. I’m always questioning whether it’s safe to go out and see my friends even though I am allowed to.”
Having used the university counselling services before, Becky* recommends them: “Having previously used the University mental health services, I would recommend the counselling service to other students who have new anxieties about Covid-19. It can be very useful to have someone to talk to, especially an adult, and they are quite understanding.”
“I miss going for walks to clear my head when the content gets too confusing”
Ben* is currently in a 2-week isolation period after his household tested positive for coronavirus in the asymptomatic testing system: “Being in isolation definitely makes it harder for me to motivate myself. I thought being stuck in my room would mean I’d have plenty of time to get work done but that’s just it, I know I’ll have plenty of time the next day too, so I start putting off work and falling behind on lectures”
Being stuck in his room for two weeks has made him feel that he can’t get away from his university work: “I miss going for walks to clear my head when the content gets too confusing and I need a break.”
When asked about how students can best protect their mental health in light of Covid-19, Student Minds Cambridge told the Tab:”We think that students can best protect their mental health at the moment by regularly checking in with themselves and how they’re feeling, showing themselves compassion, and asking for help if they feel they need it.
“We have compiled a directory of resources to help guide students to find the right support for them that they might like to look through.”
*Names have been changed for students who wish to remain anonymous.
The University has been contacted for comment.
Featured image credit: Izzy Dignum