Psychological insight into Covid impact



Image shows (L-R): Dr Anna Sedda, Dr Kirin Helliar and Dr Zuhrah Beevi

Studying psychology is a journey into understanding human beings, their behaviors and their inner worlds.

At times, events beyond a person's control, such as Covid-19, are enough to impact on their abilities to cope.

Loneliness due to social isolation during this pandemic might increase and worsen the incidence of anxiety and depression. The use of technology, such as Zoom, has seen an upward trend during this pandemic. The question is whether these technologies help combat isolation?

Today, we ask three of our esteemed psychology academics - Dr Zuhrah Beevi in Malaysia, Dr Kirin Helliar in Dubai and Dr Anna Sedda in Edinburgh - to share their views.

What is a core challenge that you can think of for students during this pandemic?

Zuhrah: Following the spread of Covid-19, many university students opt to stay on their campuses or within its vicinity to ensure stable internet bandwidth. Reliable internet service is vital as though universities are physically closed, classes are ongoing, with teaching and learning moved to the online platform. Being away from physical classes, contact with lecturers, and friends may significantly affect students' psychological well-being with increased depression and anxiety. This will be a big challenge to overcome and we will need to consider wellbeing a priority. 

Anna: I think one of the biggest challenges the students will face will be the change in their learning experience. A bit of anxiety associated to change, we know from Psychology, is what we should expect. However, this anxiety might feel overwhelming at times. So, to me, the objective will be to reassure our students. One way to do so is to highlight how the move to online learning fits well within “the new” world we live in also as Psychologists. Being so connected nowadays, the boundaries have shifted and are not constrained by physical distances, as it was years ago. For example, these days one can undergo psychological therapy on Skype! This was not the practice and Psychology had to adapt, to develop new guidelines. Not by chance, students now need to become familiar with online technologies and be able to handle delicate issues such mental health without the in-person interaction.  

What are the activities that you think will make the difference for students in the current times?

Zuhrah: At Heriot-Watt University, Malaysia, the Counselling and Disability Support has conducted several activities for staff and students following university closure due to Covid-19. Some of the activities, such as 12-Day keep calm & stay happy challenge and art activities to reduce stress, aim to keep the university community connected and well. The Counselling and Disability Support, Malaysia offers online counselling service for students. Similarly, In Malaysia the Covid-19 counselling established by the Ministry of Women, Family, and Societal Development aims to give free online counselling service for people who are adversely affected by this pandemic.

Anna: All these activities developed by Heriot-Watt University Malaysia are indeed based on Psychological knowledge that we have accumulated over the years by studying challenges phenomena as well as mental health and well-being. So, for students, the attention that governments and institutions will have to these topics, and the use of Psychological knowledge, will make indeed the difference.

Psychology seems to be very relevant for the present days. Can you explain why?

Kirin: It is, and not only for Covid related matters. I often think of Psychology as like a cooking recipe: the ‘ingredients’ are the different aspects of psychological theory, knowledge and principles, and we put these together to generate a ‘final dish’ – a comprehensive and integrated understanding of real-world phenomena. For example, when looking at protests that are currently going on in response to concerns regarding police brutality and systemic racism in policing in the US, we need to look at aspects of cognitive psychology (decision-making by police; stereotypes that police officers may hold about particular communities), social psychology (why some protest groups remain peaceful and others descend into looting and rioting, how to optimise communication between different community groups and government entities), psychology of individual differences (what influences how people decide whether they are going to protest at all, and how they will protest), political psychology (factors that politicians at local, state and federal level consider when formulating their government response to the protests), occupational psychology (what changes need to be made to police recruitment, policies and infrastructure to address protesters’ concerns), forensic psychology (factors in individuals, groups and the environment that can increase the risk of violence breaking out; jury decision-making when a police officer is charged with an offence)… and many more!