COVID-19: Over half of students worldwide have struggled with their mental health

Updated: Mar 24


More than 1 in 2 students around the world have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic, with UK students some of the worst affected.


Over the past 12 months, students have been a demographic of concern as university life has kept many of them isolated from their families and loved ones.


Research conducted in UK students has provided the evidence to back up the concern too, indicating that roughly half of all students have experienced a worsening in their mental health during lockdown.


Now, a worldwide survey carried out by student advocacy firm Chegg.org further highlights students as a group of people particularly affected by the pandemic.


Of over 16,000 undergraduate students from 21 countries, a global average of 56% have experienced a deterioration in their mental health over the past year.


Brazil (76%), the US (75%) and Canada (73%) all recorded the highest proportions of students who say that their mental health has suffered, with the UK only marginally behind (70%).


Global mental health deterioration rates among students resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic
'My mental health has suffered during the period of COVID-19' responses. Source: Chegg.org, Global Student Survey

At the same time, the proportion of UK students feeling optimistic about life is just 44% – one of the lowest rates across all countries included in the survey.


An increase in stress and anxiety levels has been the most common side effect experienced by students with 15 out of 21 countries reporting rates of 80% or higher, including the UK (84%).


Worrying figures can also be seen for more serious mental health concerns as 15% of UK students have considered ending their life, and 9% have self-harmed.


Drivers behind these effects are varied, although finances are a common factor among students from all countries.


Globally, over a third (35%) of students have a student loan they say they lose sleep over, with 1 in 5 feeling so anxious about paying it off that they have sought medical help.


In the UK, 30% of students have struggled to afford at least one of rent, utilities, food or medical bills, while around 1 in 7 lose sleep over their student debt.


Read more: Half of students struggling with their mental health – poll

Throughout the pandemic, UK students have expressed their belief that they should be financially compensated for their tuition fees this year, as enforced restrictions have fundamentally changed their university experience.


Numerous petitions have been launched asking the government to reduce tuition fees and waive accommodation fees for those unable to live in their university halls due to the restrictions, with backing from politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn.


"Paying for college is also more than a number to students," says Lila Thomas, Director of Social Impact at Chegg and Head of Chegg.org. "The financial stress is now affecting them outside of the classroom."


Undergraduates are not the only students worried about their finances though: postgraduates are feeling the strain too.


According to international research by non-profit organisation Vitae and the Student Mental Health Research Network, 70% of PhD students are concerned about their financial situation.


The study also found that postgraduates are six times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population.


"The COVID-19 pandemic, and the vast shifts our education system has undergone to adapt to it, have had a destabilising effect on learning," says Thomas.


But despite the concerns, there is hope for today's students, Thomas adds: "We should remember that although the pressures facing today’s students are intense, the opportunities they have to change things for the better are also greater than any previous generation’s.


"Today’s students also have an instinctive grasp of how to use the tools available to them to make a difference in others’ lives... they are free to break new ground and let their minds stray beyond the beaten path."


Read the full Global Student Survey from Chegg.org here.


Written by Alice Lynes

News reporter for Talking Mental Health

Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes