www.education21.in | June 25, 2021
For most of us the past year of the 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, and vaccines. This 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 particularly vulnerable 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 seems more 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. There has been relatively little work carried out on the mental health of college students in India during the course of the pandemic. Our work aimed to examine mental health and its correlates among undergraduate and postgraduate students in India.
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.
Some tips for students to maintain good mental health
Based on the results of our study, here are some tips that we think will help improve student mental health.
- Ensure good quality sleep: Students should maintain a consistent sleep schedule, reduce screen time and to stop using screens at least an hour before going to bed. As screen time increased considerably during the pandemic, colleges could also consider activities or assignments that help reduce screen time. Students should also try to exercise regularly and do calming or relaxing activities before going to bed which can be another way to improve sleep quality.
- Stay socially connected: Students should ensure that they keep in touch with their close friends and relatives, either physically or virtually. It is important to focus on the quality of contact, and to spend time doing things that help in building meaningful connections with friends and family, for instance, you could plan activities to do with friends and family, such as engaging in games, trivia, or doing chores together etc.
- Look after your physical health: Many of the above points such as exercising regularly, and sleeping better will also help improve physical health. It is important to reduce sitting time, ensure you eat well and avoid smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Institutions could also consider incorporating regular physical activity in the curriculum.
-Aparna Shankar, Professor of Psychology, FLAME University
-Ruchi Bhutada, Student – FLAME Scholar’s Program