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The Effects of Online School on Students' Mental Health

by Naidelyn Contreras

Photo taken by Savannah Torres.

A year ago, our lives were completely different. We walked through packed halls, came in close contact with people, and left the classrooms on our way to lunch without washing our hands sometimes. If we were to tell somebody the precautions we would take now, it would have been confusing to hear.

Most of us left our schools that afternoon of March 13th, not paying attention to much. We knew that after this weekend we would go right back into our early in-person classes. We were aware of the virus, but we’d never thought it would lead to this, over 128 million worldwide reported Covid-19 cases and reaching 2.79 million deaths.

Later that weekend, we found out we’d be taking two weeks off from school. We thought it would pass. We had no idea that most of us would spend the next several months without seeing each other, walking into a school building, or going back to our normal routines. Covid-19 has dramatically altered our lives. Only the memories of what it was like before live on. It all seems like a fairytale now.

Starting online classes seemed fun at first. It was a change that seemed fantastic. Not having to wake up early, commute to school, and having more free time was totally a plus, especially that two-week break off of school. Wow!

Ari Hernandez, an 11th-grade student at Birmingham Community Charter High school in California stated, “I was excited cause I didn’t have to go to school but I was also anxious cause it was something like new, you know what I mean? I was kinda anxious but kinda wasn’t because they initially told us it was going to be two weeks. I was like, ‘Oh we’ll be back.’ We never came back.”

Our main source of social interaction was going to school, where we had the opportunity to meet other teenagers. Most of us feel discouraged and unmotivated since our education is now through a device, staring at boxes of people for hours on end. We have to keep up with deadlines in order to have passing grades on top of our personal home lives, and try to have a consistent space to learn and understand.

Kayla Rosas, a freshman at Talent Unlimited High School brought up how her environment, living with two brothers, has made it challenging to focus on school work and attend her live classes. “They’re always noisy and they always come up to my room and start screaming,” she said.

The work was light at first since the teachers weren’t familiar with this new teaching style and we didn’t have regular live classes. But the deeper we got into online classes, the more self-isolation and anxiety started to increase.

“I would say that I’ve definitely gotten less motivated. When I was in person [pre-pandemic] I had so much motivation to get school work done so I could do other stuff. You know, so I could actually go somewhere and do stuff with my friends. I feel like now, I just can’t. Not that I can’t but I don’t know how to function and get my brain to focus on what I’m working on,” stated Kelly Xu, a 9th grader at High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies. Kelly expresses how the school’s teaching style is unorganized and is the same repetitive cycle every day, like most of us feel.

Being thrown into a whole new setting for a year now is not as easy of an adjustment as we thought it would be. The first few days of this quarantine felt so hopeful with more freetime but months later we ask ourselves, what now?

Kayla Rosas states, “Schools make it seem easier now that it’s online and it isn’t. It’s a lot of stress.”

Living with a restricted social life and uncertainty of when this will be over is unsettling. We are in the focal point of a mental health pandemic too. On top of dealing with the isolation and deaths, we are dealing with increased levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide. It is hard to prioritize our own health when we have to focus on school work that takes up hours of our day. We don’t have time to do something that is beneficial to ourselves.

Ari Hernandez mentions, “My school talks about how they want our mental health to be good but in certain classes, they still pile up a bunch of assignments. And that initially affects mental health because we’re still going through a pandemic and there’re still many deaths and cases that affect us. I feel like sometimes they don’t put that into consideration and are like, ‘Oh they need a little break.’ My school preaches about mental health awareness but then they still do this stuff. They still give us the same amount of work or they give us even more work because we are online and ‘we have more free time.’”

A recent New York Times article by Erica L. Green states, “Even in normal circumstances, suicides are impulsive, unpredictable, and difficult to ascribe to specific causes. The pandemic has created conditions, unlike anything mental health professionals have seen before, making causation that much more difficult to determine.”

Kelly Xu further mentions, “The worst part I would say is the way online school is done, the structure because every day is the same thing. You basically just go on Zoom, and you have class and then go to your next class and the next one after. But I feel like the classes are boring because it’s just they read a PowerPoint and you learn it and you go to your next class and it’s just the same thing over and over again. I feel like the routine is just off.” Having interactive lessons would be a way to engage students and feel like there is something to look forward to.

Despite the challenges within this past year, many of us might have reconnected with old hobbies or even picked up some new ones. Ari has started making colorful clay rings as well as Kayla, picking up jewelry making with beads and wire. Kelly has passed time by crocheting and practicing skateboarding here and there. These are all wonderful and creative hobbies that push us and make us have something to look forward to.

I found that photography, writing, music, sports, and other things have given me something to be excited about especially when I'm feeling down. Also, there are times when we are just not up to do anything. Listen to your body and what it needs. If you want to take that nap, be unproductive, that is totally okay because that is what you need at that moment to help yourself.

This pandemic has taught us an abundance of life lessons, but most importantly, how we don’t have to be strong all the time. We don’t have to keep these walls up when we want people to think we are happy and doing great, while we are truly diving deeper into a pool of sadness. Although that vulnerability of opening up to someone is terrifying, that is the way we can get help. We learn that the things we struggle with, others struggle with as well, and that it’s okay to ask for help. It is also important to check up on your friends and family just to see how they are feeling. Asking someone how they are doing can truly make a difference in their day.

If you or somebody you know are struggling with your mental health and ways to cope, please know that there are people, organizations, and hotlines that are there and available to support you in whatever you are going through and need. As well, I suggest that you confide in your advisor or another teacher you are comfortable talking with.

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