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Keir Starmer Calls For A More Frank Discussion On Students’ Mental Health During Covid-19 Pandemic

Lauren McGaun

As part of the Labour Party’s virtual public meeting series, ‘Call with Keir’, today, the Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, launched his first discussion targetted specifically at first year university students and their parents. Impact’s News Editor Lauren McGaun reports. 

In an aim to launch a more unfiltered and frank discussion on students’ mental health, Keir Starmer took to Zoom to hear from a selection of first year university students and their families, to find out what concerns they had about their transition to university during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Emma Hardy, shadow Further Education and Universities Minister, and Rosie Tressler, CEO of Student Minds, were also present at the meeting as they advocated the range of mental health support services that were on offer to students. 

Throughout the call, there was a consensus amongst many participants that more could be done to support students mentally, with lots of them being forced to self isolate in a new environment without enough communication on what help they could access. 

There’s a level of irresponsibility that I find infuriating

Sophie Jarvis, first year journalism student at the Univeristy of Leeds, described her experience having to self-isolate as “not the kind of welcome you’d really want to university to be honest”. Whilst she is still able to carry out her course online, she feels that this setback in having to isolate may course her to miss out on forming friendships with other people and getting the emotional support that students need when starting university. 

Sanjiv Sachdev, a father to a first-year student at the University of Leeds, also criticised the government for their handling of university students during the pandemic, arguing that the rise in Covid cases was “wholly avoidable and forseable” given the impact of students mixing with shared facilities, such as kitchens and bathrooms. “There’s a level of irresponsibility that I find infuriating”, he argued on the Zoom call.

Other students, including those from Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Glasgow, also reported similar experiences with some living up to flats of 12. In some cases, all of their household tested positive for Covid-19, leading to a significant rise in reported self-isolations. 

Ben West, a mental health campaigner in his third year at the University of Liverpool, said he’d worked proactively with the government in the past to get mental health support in place for university students but now feels that those support structures are lacking.

In response, Keir Starmer stated that he’s called upon the government to introduce a comprehensive mental health support package to better support students’ needs, especially those who are self-isolating. He argues that the current mental health services offered by the government don’t go far enough.

A recent survey from young minds found that 80% of respondents had experienced their mental health worsen as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic

The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, has also argued that the delay of university teaching should be put in place until there’s efficent on-campus testing in place. She argued that the rush to get to students back to campus has led to a further spike in Covid-19 cases, also having a knock on effect for students’ mental health, and is something that could have been easily avoided.

A recent survey from young minds found that 80% of respondents had experienced their mental health worsen as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, indicating that there will be an increasing mental health toll for the government to pick up as we move into the winter.

The government does however state that it’s commited to supporting students through this difficult time. Back in June, the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced mental health support specifically targetted at students. In the statement, she emphasised how “Mental health and the wellbeing of all students, whether they come from here or further afield, must be a top priority and it certainly is one of mine.”

In order for students to access support services during this challenging time, the charity Student Minds pointed to Student Space, the online support service that is run by them, as well as universities’ own wellbeing and counselling services. More information on the University of Nottingham’s Mental Health services can be found here.

Lauren McGaun

Featured image courtesy of  Lauren McGaun. No changes were made to this image.

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