The COVID-19 generation : the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education students in Portugal

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Reis, Rita : Diniz
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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal, students from every level of education have had a difficult time managing their academic life, which was ruled by uncertainty and instability these past two years. These mindsets are often more evident in higher education students who, due to the nature of their circumstances of transition to the job market and higher levels of pressure to attain certain educational objectives, are more prone to the development of psychological disorders. These two years dominated by the exceptional experience of distance learning brought with them unprecedented consequences on the mental health of higher education students. This thesis aims to understand the challenges posed by this new learning method, and to what extent these students’ rights to education and mental health were affected and protected during this period of global pandemic. To be able to proceed with this assessment with a privileged understanding from the key stakeholders’ point of view, an interview to a mental health professional working in a support center of a Portuguese faculty was conducted, and a survey was shared in social media networks accessed by higher education students, aiming to understand the conditions under which they studied during the pandemic, as well as the consequences on their psychological condition. The results revealed that, in spite of allowing students to fulfill their right to education, the distance learning method had severe consequences on their mental health during this period, aggravating feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, among others. What is striking about this issue is the lack of action from the Government to counter these consequences, which will have a massive societal impact in the years to come, as this will probably be identified as the COVID-19 Generation. Due to the future impact that this phenomenon might have both on the social and economic levels, the Portuguese Government as well as public and private universities should consider investing more in health literacy and other methods to improve the accessibility to mental health support services. Keywords: mental health, students, higher education.
Second semester University: University College Dublin - National University of Ireland
mental health, students, education, Portugal, COVID-19 pandemic, right to education, psychological aspects