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Not just 'zoom fatigue': student mental health during COVID-19

The mental health of post-secondary students has been an increasing concern over the past few years, and the pandemic has not helped. The impact of COVID-19 has extended from health and safety to academics, employment, and financial security, forcing students to face unprecedented challenges to their mental health and wellness.

 

Remote learning has limited students’ ability to engage with their academics—in other words, asynchronous lectures and online office hours have prevented students from meaningfully interacting with their professors, teaching assistants, and fellow students. Moreover, many students have been unable to fulfill lab requirements or complete field work. Student engagement is necessary for learners to fully participate in their studies and feel supported by their instructors; without it, students have felt as though the quality of their education has decreased and thus have not been as motivated to learn. This has impacted their mental health in many ways: not only are students increasingly concerned about their academic performance, but they have had difficulty concentrating. Having trouble concentrating can in turn make it harder to study and do well on exams, which adds further stress and worry. The lack of in-person support from instructors has only exacerbated concerns.

 

These mental health concerns have been compounded by increased workloads. A large number of students feel as though their workloads have increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and that they have needed more study time to keep up with classes. For example, although recorded lectures may be the same length as in-person lectures, many students have found that they need to pause, rewind, or rewatch these videos, which ends up taking longer than attending an in-person lecture. There has also been an increase in small assignments like discussion posts and weekly quizzes, and many students have indicated that trying to keep up with these small assignments prevents them from digesting the material and achieving key learning outcomes. Beyond the added coursework, students have also had to learn to navigate multiple learning platforms. The increase in workload and decrease in meaningful learning has had a large impact on mental health, with students feeling overwhelmed by the additional time and energy now required to maintain their academic performance.

 

Students’ learning environments have also changed due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions. Without access to libraries, classrooms, and other study spaces, many students have been forced to study at home. Not only are distractions and interruptions common in household environments, contributing to decreased concentration, but a lack of separation between school and home life can cause burnout. Decreased interaction with housemates, roommates, and floormates has also increased social isolation. Additionally, many students have felt stress over having to share their private residences or personal bedrooms with their classes or proctors. Changes to learning environments have also impacted accessibility. For example, students in different time zones have had to attend sessions at unreasonable hours, and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or in rural settings may not have reliable internet access. These factors can cause disruptions to sleeping and eating patterns, as well increased anxiety about fulfilling academic expectations—all of which can negatively affect students’ mental health