In this blog, placement students Steven and Prateek write about students’ experiences of anxiety during the first lockdown in Malaysia.
As we complete one year since the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown, we can see how the pandemic has resulted in the radical change of our daily lives. From the perspective of a student, this year has been especially different, with teaching seemingly being in person one minute and completely online in the next, the lack of clarity surrounding examinations and the generally limited social interaction. Understandably, how students cope with these changes varies massively and research focussing on the mental health of students through the pandemic has been important.
A recent study of students’ anxiety symptoms has shown that there have been quite diverse outcomes during the pandemic . In a sample of 983 Malaysian university students, 30% experienced some degree of anxiety during the first lockdown in Malaysia between April and May 2020. It seemed that the majority of these students reported mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety (20%). However, 65 (7%) experienced anxiety that was marked to severe, and 28 (3%) experienced the most extreme levels of anxiety. Nevertheless, the overall picture in this sample of students seems to be positive, because around 70% reported experiencing less than mild or no symptoms of anxiety during this time point.
The authors have also found that the students who were female, younger, studying a management related subject and living alone were more commonly experiencing high levels of anxiety. There are many possible reasons why these particular groups of students could be more vulnerable to poor mental health during the pandemic. For example, the authors suggested that younger adults typically spend more time on social media than their older peers. They reasoned that this might have elevated these students’ anxiety symptoms because of an increased exposure to negative news articles about the pandemic.
In contrast, they argued that the student’s who were living alone might have been feeling more lonely than those staying with their friends or family. During a sudden threatening event like the pandemic, the authors believed that this reduced social contact and emotional support may have increased this group’s level of anxiety.
However, it is important to remember that this study cannot tell us about the cause of these anxiety symptoms. It is possible that loneliness and being exposed to frequent negative media coverage about the pandemic could be associated with higher levels of anxiety. But an association doesn’t demonstrate a causal relationship. There could be several other factors that better explain why these students were experiencing anxiety symptoms. In fact, some of these factors may not even be related to any changes brought about by the pandemic. For example, the older students are at a later developmental life stage than the younger students, and their longer life experience may have allowed them to learn better strategies to regulate their negative emotions in response to stress.
This study also doesn’t tell us whether these students’ anxiety symptoms are different to what they were previously experiencing before the pandemic. The researchers did not collect any data before the pandemic started, which means that it’s not clear whether these students’ symptoms have gotten better, worse or even if they have changed at all.
What this study does provide is a snapshot of how these students have been experiencing anxiety during the first lockdown in Malaysia. In this respect, there seems to be quite diverse mental health outcomes, and this may suggest that there are still underlying factors shaping these experiences that we have not yet discovered. Future research will therefore play an important role in uncovering these factors and designing interventions to provide better support for the most vulnerable groups of students.
 Sundarasen S, Chinna K, Kamaludin K, Nurunnabi M, Baloch GM, Khoshaim HB, Hossain SF, Sukayt A. Psychological impact of COVID-19 and lockdown among university students in Malaysia: Implications and policy recommendations. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2020 Jan;17(17):6206.
DOI to paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176206