While the COVID-19 pandemic may not have affected every Canadian physically, it has certainly affected our collective mental health. Reports released by CAMH earlier this year show that overall levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness have jumped significantly since July 2021.
Findings indicate that roughly a quarter of all Canadians are currently experiencing “moderate to severe” levels in all three areas, stating that “a quarter (25.1 per cent) of survey participants (out of 1004) reported feeling moderate to severe anxiety, significantly higher than the 19.0 per cent reported in the last survey completed in July 2021. Similar spikes were found in reports of loneliness (24.1 percent now compared to 18.8 per cent last summer) and feelings of depression (22.3 percent now compared to 18.6 per cent last summer).”
Similarly, the CBC in collaboration with the Angus Reid Institute, a Canadian non-profit specializing in independent research, have recently published that since the start of the pandemic in 2020, “54 per cent of Canadians said their mental health had worsened during the past two years — with women faring significantly worse than men.”
While it is not at all surprising that numbers would increase given the length and circumstances of the lockdown and restrictions, the concern remains, however, as to whether people are receiving accessible and adequate care for their mental health and well-being, and if the system is capable of handling the sheer quantity of people in need.
While little has been done to study or report the effects of the pandemic on student mental health, we are certainly no exception.
“We know that students have to cope with multiple stressors, including daily hassles and achievement pressures to meet expectations,” says Gordon L Flett, professor in the department of psychology, and Canada Research chair in personality & health. “The COVID-19 pandemic adds unique stress on top of the usual stressors, and at a time when usually rewarding activities and opportunities are not available.
“I am worried that it may all prove overwhelming for some students. We are all dealing within an unprecedented and prolonged stress sequence that some experts have suggested could amount to a trauma for some people.”
Flett has also done extensive research on university student mental adjustment over the past three decades. Flett raises concerns that especially isolated students, or those that tend to have perfectionist tendencies, may be most at risk.
“I hope they realize that it is normal to feel at least a bit anxious and demoralized right now and it doesn’t mean they are personally defective in some way.”
Ludwig Garnica, a third-year cognitive science student notes that while some social media apps, such as WhatsApp, have helped in connecting students during the pandemic, it’s certainly not a substitute for in-person learning or connection.
“As a mature and international student having been away from any academic environment for almost a decade, a pandemic that forced all my learning online was definitely not a great experience. However, I found a strange comfort in many WhatsApp groups that formed for different classes.
“As much as the return to campus is a huge economic cost, it’s quite refreshing to go back out into the world,” Garnica adds. “But, the lack of an option to remain remote for this winter semester was a huge hit on any number of students due to economic and/or health reasons.”
York had officially confirmed the return to campus January 20, with classes resuming in person on January 31, a month into the winter 2022 term, and was met with mixed reactions and a student petition that was ultimately ignored by the university. While York has reached out to students about mental health services via email during certain events, it must also be noted that many feel an email doesn’t quite meet the expectation.
“The university left the final call for the return to in-person classes to the last possible moment when students had little incentive to drop and/or find spaces in online only courses. For some students, dropping to less than a full load of courses during fall/ winter term has real consequences, and I simply don’t see the university investing any thought into such concerns other than emails claiming they care,” Garnica continues.
As of March 22, there are no available slots for counselling or mental health help for students through York’s Counselling Services for the remainder of the academic year.