A study to assess the pandemic’s effects on the mental health of college students in the United States found that 71 percent of the students surveyed expressed increased stress and anxiety related to the disease. A decrease in social interactions was one of multiple stressors identified by the study as a contributing factor to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depressive thoughts among students.
In Qatar, the Ministry of Public Health set up a mental-health helpline to provide virtual counseling to people suffering from stress or mental disorders as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The ministry tweeted in October that the helpline had received 12,500 calls since its launch in April this year—an indication of the increase in demand for mental-health services as Covid-19 cases soared across the Gulf country.
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At universities across Qatar, student affairs officers have taken steps to make sure students who need more support have access to help. These include regular one-on-one phone calls to check on students.
In addition to calls, Indee Thotawattage, student life manager at Northwestern University in Qatar, said the university hosted programs on Zoom related to balancing mental health and used a game-based learning platform called Kahoot to organize frequent trivia nights as a way of building community among students. It also organized online information sessions on time management and good study habits, among other activities.
Pressure on Staff Members
Adjusting to the new virtual setting was not easy for university staff members.
“The biggest challenge for us as educators this semester was time,” said Sabina Uzakova, a student affairs officer at Texas A&M University in Qatar. “I had to become much more resourceful, creative and flexible to help students find ideas to stay in touch with each other, reduce stress and continue building connections,” she said.
Uzakova says that due to the pandemic, students lost the opportunity for the informal social learning that happens during in-person interactions with peers, faculty and staff.
Nevertheless, if such interaction is no longer possible, there is still room for acquiring new skills.
“It’s important to help students take this challenge and make something useful out of it,” she said. “We have to help them look at these times as an opportunity to build some new skills like adaptability, setting priorities and stress management—skills that they will find crucial later in life.”