What is the cost of isolation for working-class students?

Eleanor Corney

As part of Isolation Diaries

Being a student is hard – that goes without saying. Being a student in the middle of a pandemic is even harder. This year, due to COVID, I decided to stay at home, with the hopes of commuting into campus. As the situation with the virus evolved, things changed. Suddenly, my idea of ‘commuting’ was morphed into travelling from the sofa to the kitchen to fill up my water bottle. All of my classes are online and all in person events have been cancelled. I came to university with the hopes of finding lifelong friends to make memories with, yet instead I have received a package of crippling loneliness and internet connection problems. Additionally, being from a working class area has added to the existing difficulties of the situation. There is not much to do in Dagenham. There aren’t many places in which I could meet others, leaving me isolated in my room. Mental health funding here is extremely low, with 45% of patient referrals being closed before any treatment is provided.

I have suffered with my mental health, notably with anxiety and depression, from a young age, but my problems have been further exacerbated by looking at my computer screen alone for hours on end. Making plans with friends seems like a mission for me, as I need to factor in travel costs, commute times and whether I’d be home in time for my next class. As a working class student, finding money for travel has almost acted as a double restriction for me. Not only do I need to consider the cost of commuting, but also the cost of socialising. Especially in London, few things are inexpensive. Having to deal with that has been difficult, and I often sit and scroll mindlessly through social media, wondering why everyone else but me seems to be having such a ‘fun time’. Observing the way others are living through a screen can often catalyse a spiral of anxious thoughts. Are they having fun because I’m not there? Should I abandon my work and go and join them? Not only am I having to battle with a never-ending stream of work to do, but it’s also coupled with an intense fear of missing out. Although I am immensely glad I stayed at home, it can feel incredibly isolating.

However, this is an issue that many students are facing, regardless of their living situation. The COVID restrictions and the immense workload are partners in crime. They leave students filled with anxiety and dread. A study published in The Telegraph has shown that Nightline, a phone line run by student volunteers, has reported an increased number of calls this year. Additionally, there have already been a number of deaths on various campuses this year, according to the National Union of Students.

I feel as though the strain that students are under, caused by having to deal with this new method of online teaching as well as the isolation, has to be recognised. More funding should be provided to academic institutions, so there isn’t a waiting list for necessary mental health support, especially during these unprecedented times. To any student who feels the same as I do, rest assured there will be someone to listen to you. You are not alone.

This appeard in Issue 74