In Focus
Aug 12, 2020

Mental Health Amid a Pandemic

Students talk about their experiences during the pandemic, and the difficulties they faced.

Dawn Attride Assistant Features Editor
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Sinéad Baker for The University Times

A few months ago, no one could have predicted quite how long the lockdown would last. A few weeks at most was the estimate given by academics at the start. But as the pandemic continues to loom over our lives, so too does its far-reaching implications. With a few months of lockdown elapsed, its effects are slowly beginning to reveal themselves.

Lockdown by nature is inhumane and unsustainable – particularly from a psychological point of view. Yanked from the humdrum buzz of college life and placed in prolonged periods of total solitude from the world, students yearn for a sense of normalcy and stability. The clanging bells of the Luas and drinks clinking in the Pav seem like a lifetime ago at this point.

As soon as the first case was announced, college gradually began to empty day by day. People grew accustomed to these umbrella terms such as social distancing that little did we know, would dominate our lives for the coming months. Halls turned into a ghost town overnight as students frantically packed up their rooms and moved out for good. Grim media headlines became the norm as the world started to retreat indoors.

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And in the backdrop to the lockdown and the emptying campus and controversial online exams, student struggled to cope.

“It was quite difficult going from having a very busy life to suddenly feeling like I had nothing to do. I definitely felt a bit lost at the beginning”, says Catherine Butt, a second-year Biomedical Sciences student at Trinity.

This emotional shift from being busy to have nothing to do is something most students can relate to and was a theme throughout many students’ summers.

Thomas Lennon, a second-year Spanish and German student, says the transition felt like a sudden, sharp shock to the system.

“I probably cried for the first two weeks. I felt that I didn’t have the time needed to process what was happening”, he says. “The stark change of being stuck at home with my friends scattered across the country felt like the worst thing ever to have happened to me.”

More surprisingly, however, he felt that the pandemic brought a change for the better in our personal habits.

“I feel like most young people are caught up in fast-moving lives, heavily influenced by their friends”, he says. “I’ve noticed so many people are starting to express themselves through YouTube channels and other social media pages, with many friends telling me they wouldn’t have started these accounts if it weren’t for lockdown.”

Speaking about the impact of Coronavirus on the mindset and outlook of young people. Lennon points out how he believes this has also shifted: “I think the pandemic has really made young people aware of how important our health is. I never really considered my health before the pandemic, but now I make conscious decisions to ensure my safety. I am hopeful for the future as I realized we are all in this together and my friends are only ever a phone call away if needed.”

As the return to College on September 28th becomes closer and closer a new set of challenges face students like Butt. Highlighting her adjustment to the new normal she says: “I am content now as I have found a routine and learned to live with the restrictions. Although, I am getting more worried now things are starting to open up.”

For Sadhbh Kelly, a second-year Law and French student also at Trinity, the loss of formal education is the most concerning worry at the moment.

“While many of us still had online classes, assignments and exams, school and college experiences consist of far more than the curriculum itself. The sudden uproot increased my general feelings of anxiety and stress, and left me wondering would it ever be the same again?”

“My biggest hope for the coming year in college is that we can resume college life in a way that is as close to normal as is possible given the circumstances”, says Kelly.

The true impact of lockdown may only be revealed in the following months and years. This can be seen from people’s own experiences, as while some students have come to terms with the situation early on, others are only now realizing the impact it has had on them.

For some the impact the lockdown was delayed – particularly for students kept busy by hectic coursework.

Judith Stevenson, a second-year Biomedical Sciences student, says that at first the impact of the lockdown didn’t really affect her: “I didn’t actually find the sudden change moving home from college that bad. I suppose I didn’t really have much time to slow down and actually think about what was happening.”

Her move from Dublin back home to the rural countryside initially helped to put her at ease due to the smaller number of cases. However, after a while Stevenson found herself struggling, “I have noticed that as the months went on, my mental health began to deteriorate quite a bit. I was finding less things to do and I couldn’t see an end in sight at all.”

While some people may find the easing of lockdown reassuring, for others it actually causes increased levels of worry. Stevenson says this was the case for her: “I would say my anxiety with the Covid-19 situation is actually at its highest now as the stress and fatigue of lockdown has built up over time. I am finding it difficult to try and go back to this ‘new” normal.”

It is evident that opening up and speaking to someone trusted can help to reduce the burden of worry and anxiety. Stevenson shares how this process has helped her: “It was important for me to talk through these anxieties I was having with both my family and my doctor and realising that everyone is going through the same experience.”

Speaking of how Coronavirus has impacted students Stevenson says: “I think the biggest impact that the pandemic has had on young people has definitely been the fear of the unknown. At the start of the pandemic there were so many uncertainties in all aspects of society. For example, would the leaving cert go ahead or would foreign travel be possible?”

Despite the unpredictability of the future Stevenson remains optimistic. “I am hopeful for the future as we have made so much progress as a country already.”

As relentless as the pandemic can seem at times, one thing is certain – the effects of the lockdown have touched everyone. It has been a collective experience, which many will have to reckon with over the next year – for better and worse. But reopening will also bring unpredictability and problems unforeseen. But, again, these problems will be collectively experienced – and understood – by students everywhere.

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