With the temporary relaxation of rules, the reopening of schools and universities and people returning to work, we've seen the inevitable resurgence of coronavirus cases and unfortunately a rise in excess deaths. These deaths have been labelled as both direct (caused by the virus itself) or indirect (caused by impacts of the pandemic i.e. to the healthcare system or lockdown measures).
It's not "breaking news" that Coronavirus is running rife across the population, that infections are exponentially rising, or that the long lasting effects of COVID-19, whether it be direct or indirect are affecting the entire population. However, what is news is that Coronavirus, a physical illness, is having a huge detrimental effect on the mental health of people across the population. Whilst this has been highlighted time and time again by people across the healthcare and academic spectrum, those in positions of leadership seem adamant on ignoring this and ploughing ahead with confusing tiered approaches aimed at supporting economic welfare and lessening healthcare support. The impact of Coronavirus on mental health is being ignored - being treated almost as a background crisis that should be at the forefront of the pandemic agenda.
One key group of individuals - students, have been dealt a particularly poor hand. They've been forced to start/return to university, to normality in a tumultuous storm. Forced away from families, friends and familiarity, forced back into university halls, with little to no safeguarding measures in place. The return to 'normality' for these individuals has inevitably left them isolated and vulnerable in more ways than one. Socially, mentally and economically, these students have been scarred.
MP Nadine Dorries serving as the minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, had ample opportunity to fight for the safeguarding of students, alongside MP Gavin Williamson who is Secretary of State for Education. Neither MP raised concerns for students. Universities were left to deal with the unfolding crisis at the start of term, with many students left wishing they'd never arrived on campus. As a result, we are now faced with a growth in vulnerable students and a silent mental health crisis. Numbers of students suffering from mental health issues and numbers of students committing suicide have risen alarmingly, and they have just been pushed under the rug with the government showing little interest in trying to combat this claiming, these were isolated non-COVID related incidents. This is an injustice.
Equally, with the second wave of Coronavirus washing over us, healthcare professionals are only just starting to recover from the first wave. Mentally and physically exhausted, and tired of being met with nothing when they ask for support from the government, many are considering their career options. However, true to form, healthcare professionals are altruistic by nature and will continue in the face of adversity for those most in need. It is incumbent upon healthcare professionals, more so now than ever before, to support students, whatever setting they work in. Mental health awareness, training and suicide prevention training should be an urgent training focus for all.
Whilst this is slowly being introduced, we must consider the mental health impact of this crisis on students. All healthcare professionals have been fortunate enough to have a wholesome university experience which this virus has robbed from students this year. We must empathise with them, support them, and offer reassurance. The pandemic will inevitably reach an end at some point, when healthcare professionals will have choices to reassess their life focus, but if students are not supported, they may well be affected for the rest of their lives.
Back in April, pharmacies opened their consultation rooms to provide a safe haven for victims of abuse (who were struck isolating with their partners), with resources available to them to help them.
I think it is time we extend this safe space to students, so this is a call to action for the Government to provide us with the support and resources needed to look after students, and for pharmacists trained in mental health awareness and suicide prevention to open their consultation rooms and be their safety net! Pharmacies and pharmacy staff are the most easily accessible front-liners, with so much potential to save our students.
Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Student Minds -
Student space is here for you through coronavirus. However you’re feeling help and guidance is available. Explore a range of trusted information, services and tools to help you with the challenges of student life: studentspace.org.uk
- To start a conversation, text ‘STUDENT’ to 85258
- Call FREE on 0808 189 5260 between 4pm and 11pm
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm
Text 07860 039967
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill