The impact of COVID-19 on students’ mental health

UD students shared their experience being in college during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Flyer News. 

Kara Posniewski

Contributing Writer

It is quiet on Kiefaber Street on Easter Sunday, even though it is the first year students are on campus during this time. 

A student waits for her face time to connect. Her parents answer and show her their Easter celebration through the screen. She opens the Easter basket she received from her mom through the mail. 

She has never been apart from her family on Easter Day. This year she will miss the beloved traditions she usually shares with them. 

Her mind fills with worries as she tries to cherish this moment with her family. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students at the University of Dayton cannot leave the campus for breaks. Students are used to having spring and Easter time off to break up their spring semester and visit family.

This year these breaks have been replaced with two “wellness days” where students do not have classes during the day, although night classes are excluded from a break. Many students will go the longest they ever have without seeing their families. They also may miss sharing a holiday with them for the first time if they are Catholic. 

Not having breaks to recover from school and see family adds to the stress COVID-19 has continually caused for students and leads to academic and emotional burnout. 

To further discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health, 36 University of Dayton students were anonymously polled. 

91.7 percent of these students report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. And 88.9 percent of these students report their stress levels have increased during this academic year compared to previous years. 

Some of the added stressors they discussed included finding a job during a pandemic, increased difficulties paying attention and trying to get involved with limited socializing. 

Also, 55.6 percent of these students report they have not felt supported by the university through the added stress surrounding COVID-19. 

Students’ suggestions for the university to better support them during this time emphasized the importance of longer breaks. 

“Over a sustained break, there is not enough residual schoolwork to last the whole break, so you are guaranteed rest,” said another student “When we are given a single day in the middle of a week, the stresses of the classes the day before and the following day don’t actually allow for any rest.”

On the positive side, however, 83.3 percent of students report they have felt supported by their professors this academic year. 

“They were the people that I felt I could go to when I needed help,” said one student. 

Other respondents emphasized their supportive nature through the use of extensions, allowing in-person students, general flexibility and modified attendance policies if issues arise. 

Another 77.2 percent of students report they have experienced feelings of academic burnout. 

“I just have no motivation to do any work. Usually I enjoy doing work and getting stuff done, but I’ve lost that sense of enjoyment in it, this semester specifically,” said one student. 

“It gets monotonous and at times feels like it’s never ending, and if you get behind at all you will never catch back up,” said another student. 

Holly Harmon, University of Dayton Counseling Center director, further discussed the impact COVID-19 is having on students’ mental health. 

“Personally, I think that students have had to redefine what social relationships in colleges look like, and this has been challenging,” Harmon said. “Students are telling us that they feel more isolated, have a harder time finding support and are generally lonelier. We have seen an increase in problematic eating patterns, anxiety and depression.”

As students voice their struggles with the added stress COVID-19 has brought to their college experience, the University of Dayton continues to expand its resources and increase the accessibility of mental health care. 

“The Division of Health and Wellbeing has worked hard to implement a broad spectrum of support services,” Harmon said. 

The services she discussed include Co-Pilots (student educators) at The Brook Center, You@Dayton an online resource for mental and physical health tips, Campus Recreation’s plethora of activities and the Counseling Center implementing “Let’s Talk,” mental health consultations.  

Shelbe Brown, mental health education coordinator at The Brook Center, discussed the success YOU@Dayton has had in aiding students through these trying times. 

“As of today we are nearing 1,000 site visits,” Brown said. “About 550 students and over 60 faculty/staff members have made accounts, It’s been a unique year; I think people are really aware of the importance of nurturing our mental health. Asking for help, taking care of ourselves holistically….that’s strength.”  

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