COVID pandemic has meant constant worries about our own health and that of our loved ones. Dealing with the grief of losing those we know, enduring repeated cycles of lockdowns,and trying to make sense of the confusing and often conflicting information on symptoms, complications, variants, vaccines, and even post-covid complications has led to growing concerns about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, both now and in the long term.
University students are often particularlyvulnerable to poor mental health and this may be exacerbated in a year during which normal teaching has been upended, contact with friends has been severely curtailed and where the future seemsmore uncertain than ever. For many students, home may not represent a safe environment and having to be in such a space for long periods of time may lead to worsening in mental health.
Last year, we did some research in the area and found depression was a major manifestation of this pandemic on college students. To share a few details about it, we surveyed college students aged 18 – 25 years using an online questionnaire to assess prevalence of symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as various correlates determinants of mental health.
Our final sample consisted for 570 students, the majority of whom were female, undergraduates and were living at home. While a large proportion of students (55%) were in Maharashtra during the lockdown, students living in a further 20 states/UTs also responded. The mean age was 20 years. Our survey was carried out in October 2020 when the number of daily cases of COVID remained high, although on the decline from the peak in September 2020. A number of lockdown restrictions remained in place and the majority of our sample (~95%) reported attending classes online only. Of our sample, nearly 37% were classified has having major depression and nearly 28% had moderate or severe anxiety. Worryingly, over 20% of participants reporting having no access to counselling or mental health services at their place of study while a further 17% were not sure if such a facility was available at their college/university.
There has been relatively little work carried out on the mental health of college students in India during the course of the pandemic. But whatever research like ours is available, mental health remains a concern among undergraduate and postgraduate students in India. It will need appropriate attention and services from college authorities as these possibly reopen sooner than later.
( By Ruchi Bhutada, Student – FLAME Scholar’s Program & Aparna Shankar, Professor of Psychology, FLAME University)