Last names have been omitted to protect anonymity.
During the height of the pandemic, Ontario universities implemented remote learning as an emergency response to provincial stay-at-home orders. The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations conducted a survey on Canadian post-secondary students’ mental health in May 2020, discovering that 70 per cent of students reported feelings of anxiety, stress, or isolation during the health crisis.
A nation-wide poll conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association found that post-secondary students experienced “elevated anxiety, stress, sadness, depression, substance use and suicidal thoughts” during the pandemic. Students needed to balance their studies alongside financial setbacks and, sometimes, grief over sick or lost family members.
The Medium spoke with two students at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) about their experiences dealing with mental health.
Jordan, a fifth-year student, stated that her mental health deteriorated during the pandemic: “It was very difficult. I went through so many mental breakdowns trying to focus on my studies while also experiencing anxiety over my family’s health.”
Anjali, a fourth-year student, said that to cope with her mental health issues, she made the difficult decision of taking a break from her studies. “I never felt so much anxiety and depression. It was pretty tough to stay motivated during a pandemic when there were lots of uncertainties. I had a high GPA before the pandemic, with online learning my grades dropped significantly so I decided to take a break from my studies to heal from my anxiety attacks and depression.”
Although in person learning has returned and most health restrictions have been lifted, students are still experiencing the lasting impacts of the pandemic on their mental health.
Denise Alton, the Lead Counsellor at UTM’s Health & Counselling Centre (HCC), wrote in an email interview with The Medium that “returning to in person learning has been challenging for most.” Notably, many UTM students feel anxious interacting with peers and professors now that the institution is operating fully in-person.
“In addition to the transition to in-person learning, many are new to being university students and all the challenges that come with newly found independence, new academic expectations and hopes, and new relationships that are being built,” explains Alton.
Alton reminds students that there are mental health resources available at UTM, stating: “[The] HCC provides open access to mental health care needs by offering same-day appointments. UTM also offers all students access to MySSP, a free, confidential source of professional counselling that is offered 24/7 by text or phone in over 100 languages.”
The Covid-19 pandemic presented many mental health challenges to UTM students, some of which linger as we move past the health crisis. Regardless, the HCC offers students with mental health care and personalized wellness plans consistent with their needs, allowing students to excel at their academics while readjusting to the “new normal.”