Students report online learning negatively impacts mental health

A year ago today, California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) main quad was practically alive and booming with an influx of students rushing on to grab Starbucks from the Student Union or head on to their next class. Now, the quad sits in hallowed silence. It’s been empty since late March due to COVID-19 and students exchanged campus life for solitary virtual learning.

Shifting from the lively, hustle-and-bustle of attending university in person to changing to an at-home, completely online learning experience altered the lifestyle of everyone in the CSUMB community. This abrupt change combined with restricting oneself to attend class, events and club meetings at home affected many Otter’s mindsets. Thus, The Lutrinae teamed together to anonymously survey students and faculty about their mental health to examine the effects of the pandemic within CSUMB. 

Most responses to the survey came from students, having 79 participants to make up roughly  95.2% of respondents and four faculty or staff responses making up roughly 4.8% of respondents. For this reason, staff response was not reflected in the infographic above, but will be discussed in this report.

A majority of students said they have experienced mental health issues before the pandemic came into full effect and that their previous experiences negatively impacted them when going into a shelter-in-place. A majority also said their mental health was significantly affected by online learning. 

Responses to why their mentality has changed was due to several factors, but common themes among students were dissociating from learning because they cannot process information the same way on screen, stress about grades, finances or their future careers, not being able to see loved ones and having their entire life exist in one singular space with a laptop screen as their only method of working. 

More than half of student respondents said they spend over eight hours a day on screens of some sort, meaning they could be on their devices for 56 or more hours a week. In that case, many student’s eyes are working overtime, leaving the opportunity for them to experience “Zoom fatigue” or burnout as reported in the survey.

School stress and current living situations are the main causes for respondents’ mental health to be affected. To combat these stressors, students reported they incorporated regular exercise and mindfulness practices into their daily routines, those activities being the two activities most frequently participated in during the pandemic.

Staff and faculty responses reflected student responses in some ways, but not all. Differing from most students, 75% of the four faculty respondents have not experienced mental health issues in the past and most of them reported their previous experiences made no difference to their mentality when switching to online teaching during the pandemic. Interestingly, 75% of their responses said online learning has maybe affected their mental health. One faculty respondent said the reason for this was because they “have a hard time not helping students and responding immediately … [they are also] having a hard time setting boundaries which is impacting [their] personal life and relationship.”

All faculty respondents said they spend at least seven hours a day on their devices and some reported they spend a total of eight hours or more on screen. As for using those devices upon waking or before bed, 75% of respondents said they do so, and half of respondents said this affects their mood and sleeping patterns.

Most faculty said politics and work are the main root of their mental health being impacted. All of the faculty respondents said they began new mental health practices after the pandemic began such as meditation and most commonly, regular exercise.

Overall, the survey indicated there is a definite change in several CSUMB students and staff members’ mental health since the pandemic shifted their lives. This brings a dire need to address mental wellbeing to encourage perseverance through this undoubtedly difficult time. To receive mental health support, students can contact the Personal Growth and Counseling Center at csumb.edu/pgcc to meet with a counselor or attend their various support groups. Additionally, faculty and staff can contact the Employee Assistance Program to access mental health resources suited for them.

1 COMMENT

  1. I liked how this article was a very easy read and I was really interested in knowing how people are going through similar things as me, as someone in school as well. It really caught my eye and I love how it was written.

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