The effects of distance learning on mental health

Isolation and digital learning impacts students during unprecedented times


Brent Gelick/Talon

In terms of maintaining student mental health while online, OPHS counselors are continuing to make themselves available to students who need them.

Between a lack of social and physical connection and all the additional stressors caused by the pandemic, it is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

According to Oak Park High School counselor Julie Ross, the mental health effects of distance learning will vary greatly from student to student.

“Each student is an individual, just as adults are. We can not assume it impacts everyone the same. For example, if you are very introverted, it can actually be a bit of a relief not to be engaging with others all day long,” Ross wrote to the Talon.

Additionally, the home lives of students change the effects that COVID-19 has on them. 

“Some live with siblings and grandparents and some live with a single parent and an only child. Some families have been able to really increase their quality time together. For others though, especially parents who have to work while trying  to monitor their youth who are now at home doing school work, the situation has become quite challenging. So, for each child and family distance learning impacts them differently,” Ross wrote.

According to Ross, Distance Learning is causing a great deal of uncertainty for some students, requiring them  to adjust to a new norm.

“We are learning as a community that flexibility is one of the most important human survival traits. We are understanding as human beings how important connection is and as a result, teachers are making sure they connect with students in their virtual classroom,” Ross wrote.

In terms of maintaining student mental health while online, OPHS counselors are continuing to make themselves available to students who need them.

“Counselors are always available by email and our phone messages have forwarding on them. So contact that is not in person remained unchanged,” Ross wrote. “Additionally, we meet with students who want face to face through google meet-up. I [also] teach a class called Advanced Peer Counseling so we will still be having class live virtually.”

Beside the difficulties of COVID-19, Ross maintains that helping students is the main goal for OPHS faculty.

“We are looking for students who may be struggling. Our goal remains — to assist students socially, emotionally, and academically. I think that quarantine and DL have taught us that learning and connection go hand in hand,” Ross wrote.

According to Superintendent Tony Knight, the district has been keeping track of the negative mental health affects that Distance Learning may bring.

“We’re looking at the same thing regarding social and emotional [health, and] how we can support students if they’re in crisis or upset about something or just really [frustrated] with the pandemic and being home. [We’ve been thinking about] how we can assist. So our counselors are going to be working on ways to deal with that,” Knight said.

According to Knight, the mental health impacts of distance learning are “incredibly upsetting” to administrators.

“I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this, because of how we [are going to] support each of you as students in our school district. And how we do it well, is a great worry to me, being the person that’s responsible for this,” Knight said.

However, the exchange of potential issues of student mental health for COVID-19 prevention is an important one that the district and the state of California had to make.

“I’m not comfortable with saying ‘you know, there’ll be a certain percentage of people who will get sick.’ I’m not really okay with that. That just seems crazy to me, that you [would] allow a certain number of students to become ill, or my staff who I value so much and who are not 21 years old. There’s some of us, like myself, in our sixties that are working here who could be at risk so that is why we will not open unless our county is in the red tier or better.  This also means that we have to implement stringent safety requirements in order to open to protect our students and our staff as much as possible,” Knight said.

Some students believe that the transition to digital learning, while not without its difficulties, has also been beneficial.

“I’ve become more confident in myself, because of the time I’ve had to practice my hobbies and do things that I want to do. I’ve also become more independent. I think because of everything going on, I’ve had a lot of time to pause and reflect on myself, and have learned a lot about myself,” senior Kiara Gauttam said. “It’s pretty stressful at times, but I’m trying to make the best of it.”