Students navigate mental health changes associated with return to campus

Amarah Hasham-Steele
September 30, 2021
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

C/O Yoohyun Park

Although many hoped for an in-person year, hybrid learning continues to have mental health impacts on students

Since March of 2020, almost all McMaster University students have been unable to attend in-person classes, access on-campus services, or engage in extracurricular activities on campus. However, this fall, for the first time in over a year, students finally have the ability to return to campus for some in-person activities. 

“[McMaster is] focusing our planning on providing safe and meaningful in-person experiences for you this fall,” said a fall 2021 update for students published on April 30. 

Avery Kemble, a second-year student at McMaster, expressed an appreciation for the reopening of campus, citing the mental health benefits of learning around others and being able to access communal study spaces. 

“I think the vast majority of students want to be on campus. It is so isolating to be by yourself, doing school in your room for twelve hours a day. Being able to go on campus is so helpful for me, and I’m way more productive in a library than I am on my own,” said Kemble. 

For Camille Lisser, a first-year student, this hybrid learning environment is her first experience learning at McMaster. Lisser explained that even though she only has one tutorial in person this semester, being in residence and having access to spaces on campus allows her to learn with other people. 

“My roommate is also in [Arts & Science], so we’ve been trying to join a lot of the online [classes] together, and that’s been really helpful because one thing that I’ve really missed was being able to [attend class] sitting next to someone,” said Lisser. 

Lisser and Kemble both noted that along with the mental health benefits of learning alongside other students, there are also mental health benefits associated with being around other students in a social context too. 

Despite the mental health benefits of the return to campus, there are also mental health challenges associated with the return to in-person learning. 

After a year of online learning, returning to campus has created challenges such as COVID-19-related anxiety, stress associated with a change in routine and increased social exhaustion. 

“During Welcome Week, I was super tired, and I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired. What I think now is that it’s because there [were so many social events], and it was coming from a very non-social [time period] to a very social [time period],” explained Lisser. 

Kemble pointed out that, for second-year students specifically, another significant mental health challenge is the lack of social connection between students because they spent their first year online. 

“A lot of us still don’t know anybody in our program,” said Kemble. 

According to Kemble, McMaster’s second-year welcome events were seen as an attempt to combat this mental health challenge. However, due to the low registration capacity for those events, many second-year students were not able to access them. 

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