Morale at “historic low”: Post-secondary students grappling with COVID-19 fatigue – National


Last year, during exam season, Sarah Vereschagin and her friends booked study rooms on campus, went shopping for coffee, and used whiteboards to study.
This year, the UBC student has spent the majority of her time studying on her own from the comfort of her screens.

Vereschagin, a third-year accounting and business technology management student, says being surrounded by her friends was the only way for her to recharge and overcome stress. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says she lost the motivation to study.

“I felt like I wasn’t in school, but I had all the same school consequences,” she says. “I remember (in October) lying on the floor and panicking that I couldn’t finish everything.

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Throughout the pandemic, post-secondary students across the country have navigated online learning associated with social isolation, which has caused additional strain on their mental health, experts say. As they return for another semester of e-learning in 2021, like many others, students are now simultaneously battling COVID-19 fatigue.

Vereschagin is also president of UBC’s Mental Health Awareness Club (MHAC), a student-run club that aims to de-stigmatize, educate and support student mental health.

“Burnout is so common among students,” she said, adding that activities that students typically do to recharge their batteries, like going to the gym or seeing friends, are no longer available.

The second wave leads to more fatigue

Last semester, students from across Canada led petitions that circulated online to extend their winter vacation at schools like UBC, the University of Toronto, Brock University and more, citing the increased challenges and stress of the pandemic. But while some schools have extended the break, the next winter semester still poses challenges for student learning and well-being.

According to Nancy Heath, University Professor in Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, at When the pandemic began in 2020, students used to have an “I can do this” attitude, but today it is not.

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“What we are seeing during this semester that we did not see (before) is a level of fatigue which has led to an incredible decrease in adaptation resources.”

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“Students are at an all-time low,” Heath said.

“This coming month will be the most difficult for our students, for our instructors, for all of us,” she said.

Struggling with screens, isolation

Stephanie Zito’s own struggles with mental health played a role in her willingness to study the subject with Heath at McGill.

The first-year doctoral student also started a Instagram account Over the summer of 2020, aimed to bridge the gap between technical jargon around mental health and create an accessible and friendly way for young adults to find community and support.

In addition to pre-existing stressors that have been made worse by the pandemic, like studying for exams, students also struggle to cope with social isolation and inflexible faculty, which have become one of the many obstacles. major in their studies, she said.

For Zito, social isolation was the biggest challenge. Living in Montreal, she said being on lockdown and the recently implemented curfew left her house all day with only her screen.

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“It’s just absolute silence. When you are in person, you linger after class talking to people in your class. But (online) you got nothing, ”she said.

Likewise, Aidan D’Souza, a freshman in the Advanced Investigation and Law Enforcement program at Seneca College in Toronto, said the lack of socialization was a major challenge for him as a student.

D’Souza said he was tired of staring at screens, adding that when he was on campus he used to meet people at events in person, which was much easier than in an online environment.

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“The social aspect of post-secondary education is such an important part because it’s the time when you meet people, get to know everyone and just enjoy college and post-secondary education,” he said. -he declares.

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Permanent fatigue with online resources

According to Heath, although some mental health activities are available in online formats, some students do not join.

Amara Punia, internal vice president of UBC’s MHAC, says the club has encountered challenges when moving its programs in person to online. This year, the club established a committee of freshmen at UBC to try to foster a sense of community belonging and gain their perspective as new students navigating learning by line.

“People were already struggling with their mental health before the pandemic started and now it’s even more stressful,” Punia said.

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For years, Loizza Aquino, mental health advocate and fourth year student at the University of Toronto, has spoken out against the inadequacies of the mental health system for students at the school.

Since 2018, there were five reports deaths on U of T campuses which have led students to continue to organize better mental health support.

“It’s heartbreaking for me. And also the simple act of continuing to wage a battle where our voices as students are overlooked makes it difficult to persevere and pursue such an important cause, ”said Aquino.

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In December 2020, the vice-provost of the U of T, Micah Stickel told Global News that the university recognizes that this is a difficult time for students and that it has “devoted significant funds” to mental health services on its campuses.

“There are many central and divisional student wellness budgets that include, but are not limited to, mental health,” Stickel said.

As a student, the last semester was the most difficult for Aquino. In addition to social isolation and COVID-19 measures at her place of residence in Winnipeg, she said the lack of extension of deadlines created additional difficulties in completing homework and exams.

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Aquino says offering an institution-wide policy to reduce the stringency of extensions during the pandemic could provide a sense of help and relief.

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“I can’t control if my sanity is ever absolutely terrible. I can try some things (like) asking for outside help, but sometimes it just doesn’t work, ”she says.

Amplify student needs

In order to find out what communities need, students say post-secondary institutions should scale up and listen to students to find out what initiatives might be revised or newly implemented, Zito said.

She also says offering social media outreach through informative infographics and live broadcasts could be more beneficial.

“We live in a time where we don’t want something to take time. Especially as students, we always have something to do, ”she says. “It’s very valuable to have easily accessible materials that meet our needs.”

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Zito added that students sometimes do not read emails and institutions could work on finding ways to improve communication and access in an online learning environment.

When it comes to online resources that post-secondary institutions could implement to help students this winter, Heath said it’s a huge challenge, but schools can work to provide students with opportunities to learn. ‘interact with each other.

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For Punia, who is also a fourth-year student, it’s important that post-secondary institutions have effective resources so that students don’t feel alone and have a place to turn for the help they need.

“If we can help these people, it also helps society as a whole.”

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