With the pandemic not stopping anytime soon, schools have moved to virtual learning for an indefinite period of time. School systems all over the country have decided it’s best for students to take their courses online to minimize the spread of COVID-19. While this is best for students’ physical health, it’s taking its toll on their mental health.
By nature, humans are social creatures and school is where they learn how to navigate social situations, learn more about themselves and who they want to associate with. Being socially isolated and working through a computer takes away this opportunity. Yes, they have phones and social media, but it is not the same as being in school physically.
Being at home can be very isolating and stressful for many students. We have seen evidence of this in the past and currently, with astronauts in space, researchers in Antarctica and, the biggest example, people who are placed in solitary confinement.
Alexander Chouker, a physician researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich, studied participants in a simulation of manned spaceflight missions. The participants, who were isolated for three months, experienced changes in their sleep patterns, immune system, endocrine and neurocognitive systems and metabolism.
Isolation, like quarantine, disrupts the patterns teens have grown accustomed to since they were kids, and puts them in an environment all by themselves that they spend almost all their time in. Yes, there is family, but students spend most of their day in their rooms in calls and working on asynchronous work, not allowing them to see friends, and sometimes, family at all.
“One study found that 80% of adolescent girls feel ‘more lonely and isolated than before’” The Council of Recovery, a website dedicated to helping people stop using, and recover from, substance abuse, has said.
A study by the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection found that out of 8079 Chinese adolescents 12–18, 43% have depression, 37% anxiety and 31% have depression and anxiety during COVID-19.
When teens physically attended school, they were given free time to do what they want, aside from the obligation of homework. Now there is no clear separation between free time and asynchronous work. On top of this, reaching out to teachers is more difficult. Yes, they have email and office hours, but it is different from just raising your hand or staying a minute after class.
Online school is affecting everyone differently. Some students find it easier to work from home while others find it harder. While some students find school to be less stressful now, others are put under more stress.
“School is less stressful. It made my sleep schedule better because it starts late,” said an anonymous student, “It’s easier, there’s a lighter workload.”
However, Karen Chavez, a sophomore at CHS, has a slightly different experience with online school.
“Online school has been actually easier for me because I get to wake up later than I would use to back then before quarantine. Some classes are easier for me than others, but it is because some are honors and the other is AP. I feel like I do have more work now,” Chaves said, “The only thing that online school has affected my mental health is by how much homework we have and it makes me stressed”
An anonymous student who is having a harder time adjusting to online school has had “horrible, frequent panic attacks and inability to do work properly” and has found all classes to be harder.”
Students are not the only ones who are being affected by online school.
Mary Ollila, a Math 1 teacher at CHS, has a positive outlook on online school despite the challenges and added stress.
“I have really capitalized on the silver linings of quarantine and am trying to take advantage of that and enjoy that because this is a unique time and it will never be like this again,” Ollila said when asked about how quarantine has been, “And I, right now, I am enjoying the flexibility it allows me, for example, you can teach from anywhere.”
Later in the interview, Ollila stated, “What I don’t like is I worry about so many people’s health and I don’t know how long this is going to last.”
“Something that is difficult is making sure students are engaged,” said Ollila, “What’s really great, is I feel like I am building even stronger relationships. I can be more hands-on when we are sharing our screens.
As students are going to be using online school for the whole semester, they need to be self-aware of their limits. Virtual school increases screen time, and it exposes students to more blue light. Consequences of blue light include headaches, sore or irritated eyes and difficulty focusing as a result of eyestrain. It is also known to mess with your Circadian rhythm, and leads to sleep deprivation. Whether students are in a Google Meet and need to turn off their camera and step away or doing work outside of class and set a five-minute timer, breaks are helpful. Prioritizing your health is important and it should always come first whether it is physical or mental. Stay safe.