By Chrisancia Robinson
A mental health crisis is affecting university students in Jamaica due to the restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures such as lockdowns, curfews, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have resulted in university students feeling overwhelmed and experiencing severe anxiety and depression.
Overwhelmed and Stressed
“I am overwhelmed, due to the work is piling up because the internet is not stable at home, so I have to get things done on the last-minute,” stated Jason Smith, a third-year student at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Some students explained that online classes have become stressful as there are difficulties in navigating the online space or getting a consultation with lecturers who provide slow responses to emails.
“College was always stressful but there were ways to cope when you know you can interact with your lecturer face to face. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the stress has increased because there are so many deadlines to meet especially when you’re on your own with a particular course that you barely get lectures on,” said Celine-Dion Atkinson, a second-year student at Church Teachers’ College.
First and Final Year Students
First year students have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions, as they were required to adapt quickly to online classes while navigating unfamiliar learning platforms. Reports have shown that around one in four students experience mental health issues while at university. Not knowing what to expect before attending university can cause mental health strain on students.
This is the experience of Janel Wright, a first-year student at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech Jamaica). She explained that “I am not used to online classes and after leaving high school and coming straight to university, it has a been very hard for me. I am constantly stressed and I fear that it is affecting my academic performance.”
The stress of university has affected students’ mental health which in turns impacts their physical health. “When I’m stress, I tend to eat a lot of sweet things. I was so stressed, I had to go to the doctor and he told me to go on a diet,” stated Jewel Burton, a first-year student at UWI.
With high hopes of transitioning into the working world after university, final year students become stressed when thinking what to do next after finalizing tertiary education. “Being a final year student, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic has affected my mental health since everything that I know of final year to be and everything I look forward to see, is not the same and the whole change in what is expected in the work world now has definitely affected my mental health,” Kayla Mendez, a final year student at UTech Jamaica said.
“Some days I wake up crying not knowing what to do with myself because there’s not necessarily a blueprint that exist that tells us how exactly how to manoeuvre ourselves,” Mendez added.
Anxiety and Depression
University has negatively impacted students’ mental health which caused the onset of increased levels of stress, anxiety and depressive thoughts among students. Nadjaria Maylor a third year student at UTech Jamaica says “I didn’t know what it meant to be anxious until university, I am constantly worrying, constantly putting myself down because I can’t do what I need to.” This is reiterated by Tanashay McKenzie, a fourth-year student at the Mico University College, who states that “University is tremendously affecting my mental health because sometimes I am not able to sleep and it affected my diet,”
Shakiera Gordon, a final student at the Caribbean Maritime University says, “being at university and working with peers has definitely given me anxiety issues based on the mere fact that my groupmates tend to not “carry their weights” and I’m left with the workload and because of that, while not officially diagnosed, I have experienced symptoms of depression.”
Financial burden is a common factor which affects students’ mental health in university. With the high cost of tuition and other fees, some students are forced to work while studying which impacts their ability to focus on school work.
“Because of my tight [work] schedule, school tends to be very time consuming and it does put a strain on my mental health. I always try to aim for an ‘A’ and if I see where I am falling short or like I’m going to fail, I tend to become stressed and frustrated,” says Georgetta Williams, a final year student at UTech Jamaica.