Joel Barrett, May 31, 2021

Jana Mason, student, University of Technology, Jamaica
Jana Mason, Medical Technology student, University of Technology, Jamaica | Contributor: Demetrious Robe

The horrifying year

For many students, March 10, 2020 marked the beginning of an annus miserabilis (Latin word for “horrible year”). It was on said date that the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) confirmed the first case of the novel Corona Virus in Jamaica – a female patient who arrived from the United Kingdom on March 4, 2020. After this confirmation, the horrors of the virus exacerbated, which resulted in a national ‘Tan a yuh yaad’ lock-down regulation. This further led to the immediate suspension of face-to-face teaching and the closure of university facilities. 

Consequently, university students have been affected through closure of campuses, unplanned rapid shifts to online learning and the introduction of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing, mask wearing and travel restrictions to limit transmission of the virus. These vast changes have had complications for the educational experiences of university students and their mental, physical and financial well-being. Now it must be said that in the face of this tumultuous backdrop of a pandemic, the basics of university life managed to continue as exams still happened and students still graduated. Teaching even continued; but more often as pre-recorded or online lectures as opposed to the traditional face-to-face format. Once again these unexpected series of drastic changes to the traditional ways of operation are not to be taken lightly. Students were already stressed, already perplexed, and already pressed! 

Moreover our freshmen and women of the university who would’ve just been matriculating from a secondary education into a tertiary one,  would have been expecting a normal orientation and enrollment to the university come September. However, as the number of cases climbed, the traditional way of schooling was now to be hugely modified. So even though these students would have  been excited about getting trendy school items and planning on meeting new friends and to build comradery on campus, none of these would be possible, and nobody knew for how long. This emergency transition to online learning has had mixed satisfaction outcomes and has been found to be a stressor, particularly associated with increased workloads and insufficient learning technologies or internet connectivity; not to mention those who relied on school Wifi and devices to complete studies and assignments.

The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of students

Therefore, all of this change just seems all so stressful. And this is only a part of the school based stress, we haven’t touched on failing school systems and unstable online meetings…well, classes. For some, isolation, illness, bereavement, or financial hardships are some of the school-related stressors, and in common with the general population, students felt isolated, lonely and worried about catching the disease. The mental health of the student population has been a major concern for several years, and the pandemic has certainly intensified this problem. Students are stressed. We are depressed! There’s a pandemic happening. Some of our family members contracted the virus, some of us are still fighting to stay COVID-1- free.

Additionally, when the asymptomatic nature of the virus was introduced, with the symptoms of stress, depression and other mental illnesses presented themselves, the worry that we may have contracted the virus spiraled. A simple involuntary act such as coughing or sneezing would raise caution that you may have the virus. Now, if the presence of stress is so great, what do we then do to address the mental health of students? What provisions are being made for students who have poor coping skills? How are institutions helping them?

Taking charge of our mental health

UTech, Ja. Students' Union "Take Charge" mental health campaign

UTech, Ja. Students’ Union “Take Charge” mental health campaign theme

For the returning students who would’ve been completing their program or in their final year, the e-learning approach to education would still have been equally new. But guess what? It’s 2021! A whole year has passed since the annus miserabilis has been in existence. Some of us might have suffered in some way or another, if not all. And though the virus is still in existence and still dangerous, with multiple vaccines being manufactured, we have completed another school year. Our mental health is important. It is crucial; however, we have suffered physically, emotionally, socially, and most importantly psychologically, we have to start taking charge of our well being. And even though the system might seem to be against the wellness of our mental health with its pressures and stress, we have to make mental health and wellness a priority. 

It is interesting to note also that the pandemic has positively affected the experiences of some university students. Students have benefited from information made available on how to cope, such as detailed time management, prioritisation, and seeking professional help. There is even evidence that student performance in examinations may have improved during lock-down. This further demonstrates the diversified impacts of the pandemic on the student experience. So in spite of all the turmoil, there has nonetheless been some good.

Joel Barrett, Journalism Student

X