We are troubled to hear of new lockdown restrictions in Scotland, agreed by Scottish university leaders, which exclusively target students.
We share the frustrations of students who have now been told not to return to their home address, not to mix with people from outside their household, and have been singled out by instructions not to attend hospitality venues. This follows months of messaging from institutions and the government encouraging students to move to campus and reassurances that they would still enjoy a full university experience despite measures needed to contain the pandemic. We have seen no evidence that restrictions imposed for a sole weekend will do much to stifle the spread of the virus, making this little more than a gesture that plays up to negative attitudes towards students while not doing anything of substance to protect them, university staff, or the wider community.
This announcement comes at a time where much of the public discourse has pinned the blame on students for the resurgence of the virus. This does not reflect the reality we see where the majority of students are indeed worried about catching the virus and passing it on to others, nor does it represent the efforts of the many students who are obeying social distancing guidelines. We thus find measures which single out students to be needlessly divisive.
As the United Kingdom’s national student mental health charity, we know that the transition period into university can be a particularly challenging time for new students even outside the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown restrictions were seen to have a negative impact on student mental health and wellbeing under the initial lockdown in March and April. As such, we are mindful that lockdown restrictions must be designed to cause as little detriment to student mental health as possible and complemented by increased mental health support.
At Student Minds we strongly encourage all students and members of the wider community to follow social distancing guidelines and lockdown restrictions as they pertain to their area. However, such restrictions must be fairly applied and their benefit well-evidenced. Any guidelines created in response to the pandemic must be designed in such a way that the detrimental impact on mental health is limited as much as possible.
We hope that, going forward, lockdown restrictions which apply to students will be co-created in meaningful consultation with student and staff representatives, to protect the mental health and wellbeing of not only our universities, but also our wider communities.
If you are a student experiencing mental health difficulties, find out what help and support is available.