Loneliness has been recognised as a major public health concern and has risen since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. With everyone struggling to cope in isolation, student mental health has decreased drastically and has received very little publicity. The stay-at-home orders issued by the government have neglected the fact that many students are stuck in a no man’s land between family homes, rented accommodation, and university halls. With many students ending up isolated from any social contact, loneliness has led to a mental crisis, cognitive decline and suicidal behaviour in a disturbingly large number of the student population. Many students right now have one room and that is their home.

Money can’t solve mental health troubles

Most of the support the UK government has given to students has been financial. Though this has helped students considerably through difficult situations, the decline in their mental health has largely remained ignored. In February, the UK government increased its financial support to students from £20 million to £70 million. This will no doubt have helped those students that suddenly found themselves lapsing on rent payments and reduced some of the financial stress. However, there has been a gross misunderstanding from the government in the type of support students need, and a lack of a holistic approach to tackling the issues this sector of the public faces.

Many students have voiced their anger at the shabby online lectures and the tuition fees that have remained the same despite receiving a lower quality of education. The issues with screen time go beyond value for money and have begun to seriously affect mental health. With students learning online, reading online, and then relaxing online (through Netflix or YouTube, for example) it has quickly become a work, read, repeat virtual world within the confinement of four walls. Almost overnight, students have been forced from their extroverted social lifestyles to sitting on a chair staring at a screen for several hours a day.

Ignoring the evidence

It is not as though the government has been blindsided by the effects of the pandemic on mental health either. Several academic reports predicted this would happen from the outset. As early as five weeks into the initial lockdown one paper found that the ‘perceived stress of students increased, indicating a reduced ability to cope with the demands placed upon them, and mental wellbeing was decreased’. As the lockdowns continued more evidence has emerged to back this up. The charity Mind conducted a survey that found 73 per cent of students declaring that their mental health has declined during lockdown. They also found that the struggles associated with the decline in mental health came from moving back in with parents and being isolated from friends. This goes to show the impact that living in one room can have — something that’s exacerbated further when students move back in with family and witness their independence diminishing even more.

A NUS report found that less than a third of those who said their mental health had been negatively affected had sought help. The numbers speak for themselves in the quest to receive more mental health support for students during this time.

Pictures speak louder than words

The following photo essay was created in order to illustrate the constraints on students’ living standards brought about by Covid-19. We appear to be a sector of society that has been demonised by the media for socialising and spreading the virus. We have been neglected in the discussion on how to make mental health more resilient during this testing time and ignored — as if we have not been affected by the virus like everyone else.

The photographs aim to show how, for many student adolescents, at a time when we are meant to be socially navigating the world and exploring it, we are instead trapped in a virtual world. The difficult decision between staying in rented accommodation versus moving back in with family, as well as trying to maintain normal mental health whilst being confined to your own mind for hours on end with no respite, are problems the student population faces alone. I contrasted some of the images of the students in their rooms with them placed outside their doorways to bring home the theme that students’ ‘homes’ are only one room. It may not look like these people are struggling with isolation, but when you dig a little deeper and ask students how they’re doing, an astounding number admit that they are finding it hard to cope.

Note: All photographs were taken in line with current government guidelines on social distancing.

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