Edinburgh students need more mental health support

On Sunday 1st November, Boris Johnson unveiled plans for a second national lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19. The new national lockdown, although not a surprise, feels like a considerable step back for England. It is reminiscent of the situation in March, with one major discrepancy: schools and universities are to remain open.

Having come into force on 5th November, the measures are set to last until 2nd December. Naturally, many students studying at the University of Edinburgh are worried about the implications of the new regulations. Despite not being locked down in Scotland, some are concerned about feelings of isolation, as they are unable to visit their family and friends at home.

First-year student Finlay Dexter recently celebrated his birthday and, due to the new regulations, was unable to see his family. He said, “it was difficult to be without loved ones on my birthday, and not even being able to have the option to see them felt isolating”. Students being left without the option of seeing their families is a daunting prospect, especially with the lack of clarity on the rules and regulations.

Students who live outside Scotland are faced with worries over how long the new lockdown will last, and the period of uncertainty is preoccupying and distressing many. Unfortunately, this sentiment is widespread amongst the student population, particularly as students gear up for the possibility of a similar lockdown to be introduced in Scotland.

Suggestions of having to remain in Scotland for the Christmas holidays are at the forefront of students’ minds – especially for international students. Aisling Kelly, whose family lives in Connecticut, says that she is “very stressed” about her return home at Christmas.

The lack of clarity from the university and the Scottish Government exacerbates the climate of uncertainty at this time. Guidance and clarification should be a top priority for the university, as students feel that they have been somewhat left in the dark. Reassurance and communication from the university itself is key at this time, and unfortunately, it is noticeably absent.

The possibility of a Scottish lockdown raises particular concerns for those living in university accommodation. The noticeable lack of mental health support across the university provokes questions about how the student population will cope if there is a nationwide lockdown put in place.

First-year Olivia Latimer, who lives in Pollock Halls, is understandably worried about the prospect of isolating as she has already undergone a two-week isolation due to contracting Covid-19. Speaking about her consternation, Olivia has said “during my isolation in October, there was a disappointing lack of mental health support from the University. I worry about what will happen if we are locked down for a month, as I think that a lot of people will start to feel down and lonely”.

Another Pollock Halls resident Stevie Sheehan shares Olivia’s unease, saying, “we were told we would be contacted by support officers in our period of isolation, but me and my friends never received any calls or emails or even any offer of support from the University”.

Salisbury Court resident Georgie Fulljames had a similar experience, saying “the only mental health support I received was from the NHS track and trace officer when she asked me how I was feeling”. If Scotland enters a period of national lockdown, the university needs to make mental health support for students more of a priority, as the dissatisfaction with previous support is seemingly widespread. Student Jacklyn Hyder has said that the offered support seemed “unclear and inaccessible” and she hopes “for an improved system” if the coronavirus situation worsens.

The formulation of a new mental health strategy should be a priority now for the university. So many students have worries about their mental health and it is at the forefront of their minds. For example, the promises of ‘check-up’ phone calls should become a reality. Furthermore, accessible, operational support networks should be available to those who are struggling. At this time, the importance of social interaction has been overlooked.

Despite Covid-19 rules and regulations, the university should be doing more to combat the inevitable isolation that students are feeling.

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