Effect of pandemic restrictions on students’ mental health

Students in countries with stricter regulations are facing more mental health issues than students in countries with less severe regulations.

When Anna, 22, from Georgia embarked on the journey of university life in Berlin, her goal was definitely not to celebrate the graduation via zoom. Overseas, a Mexican girl Vania, 20, was also getting acquainted with the drastic changes. Meanwhile, Western European students Dutch Nesrine and Norwegian Kaja, both 20 years old, soon joined the bandwagon of uncertainty and missed opportunities.

These students’ lives were turned upside-down by the regulations and by bad news that never let up, and their mental health was quick to respond. The young interviewees shed light on the mental health issues that seem to have arisen during the pandemic.

Safety regulations that depress

The strictness of the regulations in Georgia made Anna’s experience even tougher than she had expected it to be, she remembers with a frown. She forces a smile before becoming serious again. Upon arrival she had to quarantine alone for 2 weeks: “I saw my family only from the window. But 2 weeks later they became the only living creatures I had contact with.” While Anna jokes at how she and her family have always been stuck together like glue, soon enough the excruciating feeling of loneliness became palpable at home. Hence, that resulted in a worsening of her mental health.

Unlike Anna, Nesrine and Kaja did not notice any significant changes in their mental state. Despite having struggled with mental health issues before, Nesrine did not experience a significant increase in her mental issues due to the pandemic regulations. “I did struggle with almost all of these issues, but not necessarily in an increased way. This was because things were happening in my life, which, if there were no coronavirus, would still affect my mental health.”

However, the mental health of a young person is affected not only by the regulations themselves, but also by the ignorance of society. This was the case for Vania: “We are supposed to wear a face mask everywhere you go and avoid crowded spaces, but people genuinely do not care.” People were going on vacation during the peak month, Vania says, shaking her head disapprovingly. Since she was obligated to go to her parents’ home to quarantine, it was impossible for her to meet with her friends. Thus, she mentions rather proudly how she put her parents’ health at the forefront. However, this isolation left strains on her anxiety.

Seeking motivation

Nesrine and Kaja both experienced the impact of covid restrictions on their education as mostly positive. Kaja stated that her daily routine has changed most radically: “I have created a very intense working schedule, combining physical workouts, work and school.” Yet, although Nesrine says that she “actually really likes online education,” she also explains that the online education set-up was a bit messy, and there was no ‘push’ from the university to do her work. Attendance during online sessions was not mandatory, and almost everything turned into self-study.

For Vania, finding a positive side to online education was not as easy. On the contrary, the 20-year-old Mexican, who had been a top student, dropped her grades during the pandemic, she admits with disappointment. She then stays silent for a while. “Our university’s online system made me lose my motivation,” she exclaims. Seven classes each week, all taught in an online environment, resulted in stress and anxiety, she claimed almost apologetically.

Moving to an online atmosphere also became a hardship for the 22-year-old Georgian. For Anna, the motivation was lessening with the intensification of regulations in Georgia. The more she couldn’t leave the house, she states, the more anxious she got. For a generation whose life was already integrated with online presence, the transition, somewhat paradoxically, resulted in loss of motivation and exacerbation of stress and anxiety.

Fear-Of-Missing-Out

The current research from Clinical Neuropsychiatry indicated the way  the measures of the pandemic have caused subsequent issues with the phenomenon of Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO). Kaja, however, would proudly disagree. She declared that, even though she lost touch with a few of her friends as a result of the virus, she has not experienced FOMO and “looks forward to the brighter future.”

For Anna, the hardest thing she still has to overcome with her mental health is the fact that she missed out on the experiences of the last year of being a bachelor student, and also having a proper graduation: “The graduation was so bittersweet…listening to the speeches I couldn’t help but cry and sob loudly.” Anna quickly decided to change the subject since remembering her online graduation made her teary-eyed.

For the Dutch and Mexican students, while the feeling is not as powerful, FOMO still occurred to some extent. Nesrine was always a student filled with energy, so it was rare to find her ever home with nothing to do. “I do pity the fact that, because of the virus, I am now unable to optimally experience my time as a student.” 20-year-old Vania felt the same: staying at home for her safety and that of her parents, she wondered how her student life could be more active and rewarding.

Anna didn’t get to wear a square graduation cap. For all she knows, it remains untouched somewhere in her university’s basement. Vania had to live with constant anxiety due to the disobedience of the society. While Nesrine and Kaja could both find the upside of it all. This again shows how students in countries with stricter regulations suffer from greater mental health issues, while those in countries with milder regulations, such as the Netherlands, may experience less of an influence.

Overall, students all over the world are affected in all kinds of ways. For  some, it is of vital importance that their mental state receives more attention. While all have their own different issues, yet more problems may arise after the pandemic. This is when countries will need to help their young people heal from the strain of regulations and loss.

PHOTO CAPTIONS
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Campus Woudstein with empty bike racks and no students around. October 28, 2020, Rotterdam. Source: Mariam Ninidze

Closed Starbucks at Campus Woudestein with empty chairs – normally packed with students with laptops. October 28, 2020, Rotterdam. Source: Mariam Ninidze

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