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How has online school affected student mental health?

By Admin User on December 17, 2020

A recent survey of post-secondary students shows that 20 per cent of students are highly concerned about future jobs and 40 per cent of students are slightly concerned about what the job market will be like when they finish their programs.

The uncertainty of the job market with the regular stress that comes with school has caused an increase in students reaching out for mental health support. Juliana Duran, a student, says that she has struggled with her mental health since classes have been online.

Student opinion: Struggles due to digital learning.

Duran learning her music without a musician to play the music for her

Calculating time zone differences:

For students like Juliana Duran online classes have been a challenge. Not only is she learning from home but she’s also learning in a different time zone.

Duran is a student at Randolph College of the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario but she is currently completing her studies from Sherwood Park, Alberta. The time difference between Toronto and Sherwood Park is two hours.

“There’s so much stress because you need to hand in an assignment, but everything’s in the different time zones. So you have to mentally do the math to hand in an assignment on time anyways. And then you can’t get together with your friends, except for on weekends when you have spare time, because everyone’s in a different time zone and some people can’t be up past 10. But 10 o’clock for them is eight o’clock for you. And I would just say that my stress levels have gone through the roof”

Juliana Duran
Duran writing down her schedule and to-do lists for online classes

Struggling to manage distractions and separate school work from personal time:

Duran says that she struggles with finding a place at home that is distraction free to get school work done. Which she says only adds to the stress of online learning.

Duran added she also struggles with separating school and home because everything is all in the same place. And it’s hard to avoid thinking of school with school being done from home.

“It’s definitely hard because then you’re doing something that you love to do, like if I really want to paint something, but then I’m like, oh, but I have this homework assignment. And I have to do it, my computer’s just right there. So I should probably just do it now. But I need a mental break, but I really can’t and my computer is staring me in the face”

Juliana Duran
Duran’s current setup for school

Feeling isolated because of online learning:

But Duran said that to her the hardest part of online classes is the lack of social interaction.

Duran working hard in her basement to get her assignments done

“It’s the loneliness that comes with online school. It’s kind of like, you finished your class and shut your laptop. And it’s this shocking realization that you’re alone in your basement. And then there’s no human connection for the rest of the day until you maybe get to see your family after doing hours of work in your basement”

Juliana Duran

Lack of motivation to do the things you enjoy:

Duran also pointed out that with school being online she has lost enjoyment in the things she used to love to do because of the increased screen time involved with digital learning.

“I can’t do things on my phone that I used to enjoy doing like, reading, or researching things on Google, even just like going on Instagram, just to check and see what people are doing, [or] going on Twitter just to see what the funny tweets of the day are. It feels like I’m making my body and my eyes hurt more just from doing things that I used to enjoy”

Juliana Duran
Juliana Duran’s Instagram

Overcoming challenges:

But the challenges of online school haven’t stopped Duran from working her hardest. Duran decided to make the best of staying at home and for her final project she wrote her own musical theatre song based of the popular Christmas movie “Home Alone”.

Duran like many other students felt that online classes were significantly more challenging and that she felt for herself it would be better if she deferred for a semester in hopes that when she goes back COVID-19 regulations might be less strict and she can go back to regular in-person classes.

Professional Opinion: How students are managing online classes?

NAIT Campus Pre-pandemic

Student determination:

Alycia Chung a NAIT Psychologist says that she’s noticed most students are just wanting to finish their program no matter how it is delivered.

“I think that the majority of students are kind of dedicated to kind of getting through, regardless, but I won’t lie. There are quite a few students that are saying ‘is this the right time for me?’ … There’s some individuals that really feel like the overall stress is so much that if I delay it a little bit, then maybe I’ll have more resources to deal with it at that time”

Alycia Chung

Increase in students reaching out for counselling:

Chung also added that the NAIT counselling services have been busier than normal with students trying to cope with all the new changes.

NAIT’s student counselling page

“Individuals that maybe had their pre-existing issues, this is only adding to it. And of course, there are some individuals that were perfectly functioning before and all of a sudden this is uncharted territory. So it does seem like we have kind of a new focus. … [Some] people that maybe hadn’t thought that they needed to access counselling before are starting to reach out. We were always busy. But yes, definitely. even busier with this”

Alycia Chung

Everyone is struggling in their own ways:

Chung said for students who are feeling overwhelmed with online classes they should know they’re not alone and that everyone is struggling in their own way.

“I just want to validate that it is hard and no one said that it was easy. And you’re not alone in it. And the other part is that it’s so important to know that there are supports that want to help you. … Learning Services can help you adapt to learning online to make things more [effective] or Student Counselling can help you to deal with any of the coping mechanisms. But even reach out to your instructors to let them know that you’re struggling as well because unless you actually reach out they’re not going to be able to support you”

Alycia Chung

Reach out to resources available to help manage the new challenges that come with online classes:

Chung also added that for students the learning services are always open to give tips to improve on time management, help become organized, how to stay on top of assignment and classes, etc.


Many students have expressed higher levels of anxiety and stress because of digital learning.

However, some students prefer online learning. A study done in 2020 shows 52 per cent of American graduate students felt they received better education through the digital platforms. And research from the Institute of America shows that retention rates in E-learning is 25 to 60 per cent higher than regular in-person learning.

Coping methods for online learning:

Chung and many others have some tips for how to best handle online school. Below is a list of a few coping strategies:

  • Set yourself a schedule – even if you don’t have anything scheduled, wake up at relatively the same time, set an amount of time to get work done and go to bed at around the same time everyday.
  • Take deep breathes and lean on your support system when you need help
  • Talk to your instructors if you’re feeling overwhelmed
  • Give yourself rewards when you complete a task
  • Write to-do lists
  • Get up and get ready even though you aren’t going anywhere
  • Be compassionate to yourself – don’t put yourself down because you’re not doing as well as before, things have changed remember that
  • Remember to reach out to friends and family
  • Create a space that is dedicated only for school/work
  • Get exercise
  • Actively participate – speak up in class or turn your webcam on
  • Try to get assignments done when they’re handed out instead of leaving it to the last minute

Online classes have been challenging not only in adapting but also for students mental health. Classes will continue to be offered digitally for the winter 2021 term and for the foreseeable future. But digital supports will continue to be available.



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