Isolation and anxiety

Student mental health after a year of online school

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

This past university year has been, without a doubt, difficult for students in many ways. The mental-health crisis at Canadian universities has been well-documented, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A year of isolation, online learning and socioeconomic anxiety has only worsened existing problems.

“There are seemingly infinite challenges that students have had to face and overcome this past year,” Breanna Laggo, Jack.org chapter lead at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), says in an email to The Uniter.

According to its website, Jack.org is a Canadian charity focused on “training and empowering young leaders to revolutionize mental health.”

“We are passionate in our pursuit towards a University of Winnipeg where all young people understand how to take care of their own mental (health) and look out for each other, as well,” Laggo says.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated the already existing barriers to youth accessing mental-health support services,” she says, adding that “the toll of isolation cannot be (overstated).”

For university students, it is not just the public-health crisis and lockdowns causing anxiety. There is also the ongoing economic crisis and the uncertainty of future job prospects.

“Students are navigating unemployment and the financial fallout of the pandemic, while trying to pay for school, the expenses of living and experiencing the stress of life in a pandemic,” Laggo says.

Statistics Canada’s February 2021 Labour Force Survey found that the unemployment rate for  youth ages 15 to 24 is 17.1 per cent. While it has been gradually decreasing, it still represents the difficult labour-market conditions faced by students and young people.

The U of W chapter of Jack.org tries to tackle many of these mental health-related issues.

“We are working to increase education, improve attitudes, change systems and ensure access to affordable care,” Laggo says.

Stephen Sutherland, program director at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Manitoba and Winnipeg and an expert on post-secondary student mental health, agrees that this past year has been incredibly challenging.

“Students, prior to COVID, were experiencing extraordinary mental-health needs and challenges,” Sutherland says, adding that “normalizing stress” was one of the most prominent issues he has seen.

“COVID has only heightened those things,” he says.

In terms of what students should do to deal with their challenges, Sutherland highly recommends reaching out for help and using existing resources, including ones from his organization.

“Calling the service navigation hub here at the CMHA is a great first step,” he says. 

Other resources recommended by Sutherland and Laggo include U of W Student Wellness and the Klinic Crisis Line (which can be accessed at 204-786-8686 or 1-888-322-3019).

“Be proud of yourself for making it through the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to you so far,” Laggo says.

Published in Volume 75, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 24, 2021)

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