The ups and downs of life as a university student during COVID-19

A majority of Monash University students are worried about how their wellbeing, their nation and the global community will look post-COVID-19, a world-first survey has found.

Conducted by Monash’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, the Thrive@Home study surveyed students throughout 2020 about their financial and academic concerns and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on their wellbeing during the pandemic.

Led by Professor Kim Cornish and the Thrive team, students reported slightly elevated levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep impairment and social isolation, with nearly one quarter of those surveyed reporting high levels of stress.

About a third of students reported being concerned about having enough resources or money, with approximately 20 per cent extremely concerned about the stability of their living situation.

At the same time, these markers of wellbeing did not fluctuate drastically over the course of the study, suggesting that students adapted to the (initially disruptive and upsetting) onset of the pandemic. They also adapted well to studying from home and few held concerns about their physical health. Most students took a sense of confidence and optimism into Semester two.

The survey recorded data across four timepoints in 2020 - May, July, August and October - involving between 1000 and 1500 students at each period. The majority were full-time, undergraduate females studying within Victoria, with 25-39 per cent international students, 10 per cent studying from home with a disability and between 15 and 30 per cent living alone.

The University will use the results to focus efforts on a number of different recommendations to support work towards enhancing student wellbeing and understanding of mental health.

One preliminary recommendation is the development of a Monash taskforce to outline a roadmap to mental health and wellbeing recovery (2021-2023), co-led by Monash mental health leaders and students.

It was also recommended that peer support training and promotion of novel digital wellbeing tools are front and centre in the roadmap to guide students through this unprecedented time and maintain their resilience.

“Normal life as a student has disappeared. These changes have placed students at a heightened risk of a wide range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress,” Professor Cornish said.

“If we are to truly understand what students need in terms of their mental health and psychological wellbeing, then we need to capture their lived experience as they return to campus.”

The Thrive study will continue to survey the current cohorts of students as they progress into years 2, 3 and 4, and will include the new first year cohort over a three-year time period.

“We want to ensure we are constantly changing and evolving our resources and digital technologies to support students, giving them every chance of success.”