French university students have been demonstrating to denounce the mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and call on authorities to allow in-person teaching.
Student protests were held across France on January 20 and more are scheduled this week.
The UNEF union said on Facebook that university students “have been the forgotten ones” for months with “no real action taken by the government to prevent us from being a sacrificed generation”.
They demand a return to in-person teaching for all students with a 50 per cent attendance rate and a €1.2 billion emergency investment plan to help students in precarious situations through scholarships and housing benefits.
The demonstrations come on the heel of several suicides, including two in the space of a week earlier this month in Lyon.
Recent surveys have revealed the global health crisis has exacerbated mental health problems in students due to the isolation, learning difficulties from remote teaching and financial difficulties — many have lost part-time jobs due to the pandemic.
A survey commissioned by Le Figaro Etudiants and released in December found that 69 per cent were worried for their mental health due to COVID-19 and that 92 per cent were also worried about the current economic and social context.
A poll of more than 3,600 students at a university in Picardie, northern France, found last month that 72 per cent suffered from psychological distress over the previous four weeks and that more than a third had had depressive symptoms.
The government said earlier this month that that psychological assistance on campus will be strengthened throughout 2021 and that further measures are to be unveiled shortly.
Ange-William Etienne, a law student from the Ivory Coast at Lyon-I University, told Euronews that “it’s been difficult, all of my neighbours have returned to their parents.
“There’s a feeling of loneliness, precariousness and worrying about my future. We’re told that we can call a psychologist but with 30,000 students in this university, imagine if all the students call this one psychologist they have, she’s not going to cope with it,” he added.
He also highlighted that remote learning can be tricky. “Some teachers would give explanations, others would not. We have to work it out.”
Dr Eve Becache, head of the Live Phone Platform helpline at Le Vinatorier Hospital, said calls from students in recent weeks have dealt with issues ranging from “psychological difficulty, distress or feelings of uncertainty”.
“It can also be depression. The most extreme situation that’s happened is a student calling because they are at the edge of a window. In this case, we immediately called the ambulance service and police come to the rescue,” she told Euronews.