Students who go to school online may face challenges, as well as reap advantages, from virtual classes. With support, adaptation skills, and the right technology and approaches, online students can learn academics as well as life skills, including how to support their mental wellbeing.
Awareness of students’ wellness and how to help them is crucial. If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health concerns, please seek help from a licensed mental health professional.
Challenges of Online School
With the global pandemic and the closure of schools, students of all ages have faced virtual learning platforms with little or no time to prepare. With new online models, many students of all ages are facing a number of challenges to mental wellness, such as:
- Feelings of isolation and a loss of a sense of connection or belonging.
- Slowed growth of social skills.
- A dip in confidence, perhaps due to a lack of individual feedback or in-person interactions from teachers.
- A lack of a sense of separation between home and school.
- Less motivation, modeling, and encouragement from peers to learn.
- Difficulties managing technology, particularly with glitches in home Internet services, video conferencing, and computers that don’t always work as planned.
- A feeling of a lack of privacy or worry about their homes when entire classes can see a student’s living situation on the background of their screens.
- Decreased motivation due to fatigue from constantly being at home.
- Difficulty paying attention when in front of screens for long amounts of time.
- Distractions around the home or a lack of space or technology to support the online learning environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, research has shown that mental health challenges increased drastically. Young people were more likely than any other group to show an increase in mental health disorders and were more likely to have moderate to severe anxiety or depression. Supporting students’ emotional health during times of online learning may help them cope and feel supported.
How to Support the Mental Health of Virtual Learners—and How Students Can Help Themselves and Others
- Engage and talk with students about what they’re learning and why it’s important.
- Support students with time management and organizational skills at home.
- Encourage students to take their own initiative and create healthy schedules so that they can feel a sense of autonomy, control, and accomplishment.
- Urge students to maintain or establish relationships and build social connections.
- Acknowledge students’ feelings. If they feel discouraged or anxious, let them know that their feelings are valid, let them talk, and offer to help them seek help from a professional.
- Talk to students about empathy and give them opportunities for empathetic behavior. If they can grasp how other people feel, they might not feel as isolated. Taking it a step beyond and offering others help and support can be a mood booster.
- Encourage students to practice gratitude. Finding small things to be thankful for can promote a positive mindset and outlook.
- Be aware of signs of distress, such as changes in mood and behavior. Always be ready to seek help if you have concerns about your own or a loved one’s mental health—compassionate support and treatment are available from licensed mental health professionals.
- Practice compassion and acceptance. Going to school or working from home, especially under new circumstances, can be challenging.
Healthy Habits for Online Students
- Set up a schedule so that the days have structure and don’t seem like they’re filled with endless hours of schoolwork and computers.
- Divide the day into class time, study time, and personal time.
- Have a spot to do schoolwork, preferably not in the bedroom and not on the bed.
- Take breaks from screens.
- Go outside—fresh air can improve moods and help lower anxiety and stress levels.
- Exercise to boost endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals) and to keep the body and mind fit, which can become even more important when days are filled with screen time.
- Engage in enjoyable and relaxing activities.
- Practice stress management techniques, like deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
- Eat healthy foods on a regular schedule.
- Establish healthy sleep patterns with enough sleep at regular times.
- Manage negative thoughts by thinking of positive alternatives.
Online learning is a relatively new approach to school for most students and teachers. However, with preparation and awareness of how to manage its challenges and appreciate its benefits, it can be a positive, healthy learning experience. Caring for mental health is important whether engaging in virtual or in person experiences.