Is online education and using video for classes doing us any good? The year 2020 turned everyone’s lives upside down, and students are no exception. Suddenly, you had to stay home 24/7, attend lectures via Zoom, and spend hours in front of a screen. You had to adapt to this new normal in a matter of days.
Of course, this swift—and drastic—change left its mark on students’ mental health. How could it not? But what effects did online education have on mental health, exactly? Let’s take a look at five key ones.
1. Students worry more about their academic performance
Due to this one huge disruption, almost half of students, 44%, to be exact, reported that they were worried about staying enrolled in college. Why? Their academic performance took a severe dip.
The reasons behind that dip vary. Some struggled to stay motivated to study. Others found themselves at a disadvantage due to their level of income. It’s hard to remain a productive learner if you don’t have a stable internet connection or reliable devices.
So, if you’re one of those students who worry about their academic future, you’re not alone. Keep in mind: it’s never too late to turn things around. For example, you can pay someone to write your essay to fix the situation. If specific mental health challenges don’t allow you to be productive, you should also work on overcoming them.
2. Motivation became even harder to find
Loss of motivation has been a refrain in psychology experts’ coverage of online education. There can be several reasons behind it, according to the American Psychological Association:
- Social interaction and connection fuel the motivation to learn. Just compare working on a group project and a solo one;
- It’s important to know that professors care about your progress to remain engaged;
- Online assignments simply might not be challenging enough, especially in the applied fields.
3. Zoom fatigue is now a thing
No one heard about—and very few experienced—what is now known as “Zoom Fatigue.” Have you ever felt drained after attending classes on Zoom the whole day? This is precisely that. And yes, you can experience it even if it doesn’t seem like you’ve had to do that much during a videoconference.
This particular kind of fatigue has two underlying causes:
- Information overload. There’s too much information thrown at students. It makes them feel overwhelmed or tune out;
- The sameness. Learning activities remain the same. Plus, students have to stay seated in front of a screen throughout the day.
4. Social isolation caused psychological distress
Online communication, unfortunately, hasn’t proven to be an adequate substitute for in-person interaction. Texting and emails don’t transmit the tone of voice or other non-verbal cues. Calls and video conferences can, but they still have their limits. Furthermore, students thrive on having a sense of community and belonging. Maintaining the two turned out to be a challenge after learning moved completely online.
Lack of social interaction meant increased feelings of loneliness and isolation and loss of motivation. As a result, the levels of psychological distress skyrocketed. Anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms have become more common than before the pandemic hit.
5. More students show anxiety, stress, depression symptoms
More than twice as many young people in the United States reported high anxiety and stress levels in March 2021 as in the months before COVID-19 hit. Young people are also more susceptible to anxiety and stress than adults.
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More students have also experienced or continue to experience depression symptoms. According to one survey, 52% of students reported feeling hopeless. 39% said they were severely depressed.
As to the why’s of this trend, reasons vary here as well:
- Uncertainty about the future;
- Potential or actual income loss;
- The risk of falling sick or losing a loved one due to COVID-19;
- Lack of social interaction;
- Unhealthy study-life balance;
- Inability to do things they enjoy (e.g., go to the gym).
How to cope with mental health challenges
There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you can relate to one or several mental health challenges listed above. Millions of others are living or have lived through a similar experience. Mental health is no different from physical health: it needs to be addressed when there’s a problem. It won’t go away on its own, just like a broken leg won’t heal properly without a cast.
Here are several recommendations for overcoming a mental health challenge:
- Recognize the issue. Name your emotions and feelings. Ask yourself what causes them. You can find self-reflection guides and questionnaires online.
- Reach out to someone. You can share your struggles with someone who won’t judge you and will listen.
- Consider counseling. Talking to a specialist will lead to more fruitful results. Your college probably has a specialist that you can turn to for free.
- Create healthy habits. A healthy diet, enough sleep, and exercising can go a long way. Think about creating your self-care routine and practicing mindfulness.
It’s not all gloom and doom, however…
Not everyone suffered from the new normal of education. Some students actually felt better off studying online as opposed to in-person. One study found that students with preexisting mental health concerns didn’t report their mental well-being worsening. Instead, it either remained at the same level or improved.
Online education was also a positive learning experience for students who were bullied or had issues socializing with their peers. Staying at home provided an increased sense of psychological safety. That allowed them to become more productive. Finally, online education also meant students could become more flexible in their learning. They could finally learn completely at their own pace and in their own way. They could also dedicate more or less time to specific topics based on their needs.
Everyone had to switch to online education practically overnight. So, it’s no wonder why it’s been stressful for students and teaching staff alike. And, sadly, online education hasn’t proven to be a good alternative for most students. Fortunately, most colleges and universities have already switched to hybrid education. This format combines both online and in-person learning, bringing together the best of the two worlds.
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Photo credit: The images (1, 2) shown were done by Pablo Nidam.