EXCLUSIVE SERIES: THE KIDS ARE NOT OK: The COVID effect on post-secondary students - Part 1

The Kids Are Not OK

Since March, life for post-secondary students in our province and across the country has been turned upside down. With the uncertainty of the future and a complete change to college and university life, on-campus mental health services and crisis lines are being used in a capacity we've never seen before. In part one of "THE KIDS ARE NOT OK: The COVID effect on post-secondary students" we speak with students from some of the biggest universities across Ontario. They detail their struggles, how they're still trying to have some sort of a normal university experience, and the challenges they face with accessing mental health services.

 

Dante had a nearly impossible choice to make leading up to September... should he stay home in Ottawa and pursue his arts degree at Queen's University remotely? Or, should he try and have the classic university experience we're all used to — even in the midst of a global pandemic?

"I mean, I'll always have some doubts about the fact that I didn't go back, but at the same time, I found that I found a lot of mechanisms for me to deal with this kind of thing," Dante tells NEWSTALK 1010.

He made so many friends in Kingston during his first year, and to put it lightly — this semester has been tough for him. He's trying to stay motivated and focused through constant distractions, including having to watch some of his friends carry on with partying and good times, as if nothing has changed.

"Even I can say seeing that, I actually deleted both my social medias just so I didn't have to really have that as a distraction. I think that a lot of kids will see that and... they'll feel like they're missing out on a lot of the social parts," Dante says. "It sometimes has nothing to do with the actual school aspect.

It adds to the frustration, isolation, and anxiety Dante was already facing. He knew other students working from home had to feel this way, so he created a Facebook group, for him and his peers to be there for each other mentally... 

"Just for myself it was really important to have a space where I could still connect with students from Queen's and sort of get to live vicariously through this online site," Dante says.

The group is meant to be an outlet for students like Dante, who are desperate for the social connection they're forced to miss out on this year.

Other students, like Sara who goes to Western University, are missing out on something completely different — like having a Thanksgiving meal with her family in Toronto.

"My dad is actually immunocompromised, so I feel like that kind of would stress me and him out if I were to come home."

The first-year business student was so excited to experience life at university. She, and so many other students, feel like they're having this crucial time in their lives ripped away from them. So even though she's being safe, she admits she has let her guard down.

"And it's really hard to remind myself that I have to be careful about this virus, especially after seeing people who aren't careful at all and also after seeing people hanging out in really big groups and no one getting the virus, it's like 'OK then why am I doing this?' you know what I mean?"

Sara is trying to be careful, but the pandemic is weighing on her mental health. She's started to access the counselling offered at Western University, and she says even though there are lots of mental health services available at the school, it's getting tough to find times to access them.

"There are a lot of people who are trying to get it, especially with counselling, they're only able to do appointments with individuals like every two weeks because there's just so many people who are opting for those supports," Sara says.

Hanna Suggate is the co-founder of the University of Toronto Mental Health Association — a student-run group that helps support the mental wellbeing of students.

"Students are frustrated, and they're not frustrated at anyone in particular," Suggate says.

They're frustrated about the lack of a university experience they're getting, frustrated with only doing online courses, frustrated with a lack of social connection.

"We've seen spikes in peoples' anxiety... caused by isolation and caused by just the stresses," she says.

Suggate says with spikes in anxiety levels on campus, the group reaches out to community partners who are trained professionals, to get students the help they need.

MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES:

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, here is a list of resources that could help: