‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’ Aristotle

As a psychotherapist, I presently work with a large number of college students.

My work with these incredibly talented, bright, funny, kind and clever humans has led me to write this blog post.

Among all the students, their range of ages, and their range of beliefs, attitudes, interests and followings. I am finding they all have very distinct aspects in common. The effects Covid has had on them as individuals and in groups. The effect it is, and has had on their ‘new way’ of living. Interacting. Socialising and connecting.

This is a subject that needs to have a spotlight shone upon it! I hope this reaches parents, tutors, teachers, carers, lecturers, politicians and the like.

What’s going on with our students in college. Our future generations that will one day run our country. Hopefully these young, energetic humans will have the strength and the resilience to navigate (even muddle) through these times and come out the other end, objective, compassionate, calm, resilient, capable and with a good sense of connection, empathy and strength.

What’s going on? It’s fair to say each and every age group is finding it hard. But in this blog I am focussing on students. Ages range in the early 20’s. Some living on campus, and others have had to move home, due to classes going online (zoom), affordability, lack of part time (hospitality mostly) jobs. And a fear of contracting covid.

Will we reflect in the future about how this was handled? probably…but for now we navigate in the dark and find a way. Covid is real, and we must all be diligent, conscious and careful in not spreading the disease. That is a given. But what is also real is the issues our students are faced with at present. The loneliness and the anxiety.

I am noticing a number of commonalities. Anxiety, stress, depression, fear, isolation, loneliness, boredom, disconnect and an inability to have romantic relationships. More and more students are reaching out, looking for support, asking for help. I have noticed a large increase in student counselling. Am I glad to say this? At least these students feel safe enough to reach out and not hold the feelings in. Perhaps glad isn’t the term I might use, but instead relieved that they are reaching out.

If many students are feeling the same thing, what’s happening?

Firstly is the area of tuition. Classes now being delivered via online platforms. This is proving to be challenging, and exhausting for students. The feedback I am receiving is interesting, students tell me when they are on the online platform they feel ‘less’ confident speaking out, less than they would in a real life student setting of a lecture hall/environment. They say, they feel put on the spot, uncomfortable, highlighted. So tend to not speak, or engage and not ask questions, for fears of feeling or looking ‘silly’. Fearful of that question being ‘a stupid question’.

How can this be overcome? Maybe there is a space for this in a conversation with students. In groups, asking what the student needs in order to feel comfortable in an online group dynamic/ online lectures. Questions like what might help? What doesn’t help?

Online delivery of education is tiring, exhausting on the eyes and the brain. It is more demanding than in person, less personable and harder to stay engaged on. Online learning takes focus and concentration. Which I am hearing from students is hard to find some days.

I am noticing a disconnect with students on campus, not allowed to visit other students. Students are finding themselves isolated in their rooms. Cut off from their friends and social situations. Spending more time than ever indoors. On screens. Resulting is loneliness and isolation. Those who I work with from home experience isolation in an alternative manner, they feel disconnect, lonely, back home under their parents roof. Unable to drive to see friends/boyfriends/girlfriends. Unable to get trains or buses. But again connecting online…….lets open up the conversation.

Anxiety around results, exams and grades is high. Online exams are new, different, unfamiliar. Students feel they would have liked more awareness around ‘how’ online exams would take place. That sitting in front of an exam facilitator made them feel awkward and this compromised the flow of the exam writing. Again, what might have helped here? communication around what to expect perhaps?

Anxiety around what the future holds, jobs that may no longer be available to these young people, these are the conversations I am having. Summer jobs, college part time bar work, all gone for now! All perhaps small, but so big in the life of the student.

What can be done? Awareness, conversations, group chats. I have worked with groups for years now, group work allows people to come together and air their differences, their opinions and their frustrations. We cannot meet in person, but we can meet online. Not ideal but I wonder will talking this out amongst peers, people who are in your shoes, students who ‘get’ what the other is going through.

Maybe time to ask your son or daughter, niece of nephew, friend, student, supervisee how are you doing with your studying? what is online study like for you? and what might help you to clear some of the fog, fear, chaos and anxiety surrounding all of these anomalies…..

Alannah Dawson

BA Hons Degree Counselling & Psychotherapy

Cert Sports Psychology