Digital school is exacerbating the mental health crisis

Samuel Battis, Staff Writer




Exhaustion. Isolation. Stress. These emotions have become fixtures of 2020. At least digital school is back in session—surely this semblance of a return to normalcy has consoled students?

Think again. A survey conducted through the Patriot Press Instagram page* provides evidence that students are undergoing a variety of health struggles in tandem with this year’s digital school.

Among the students surveyed, 45% reported a drop in mental health since the start of the school year. This troubling figure was accompanied by reported declines in exercise, socialization (including digitally), and time spent outdoors. Though it is sometimes dangerous to assume causation from correlation, exercise alone is proven to reduce stress, increase energy, and improve one’s mood**.

For many students, the demands of digital school come into conflict with these healthy habits. 

“The large amount of homework gives me barely any time to do things for myself like exercise and talk with my friends,” an anonymous respondent said. 

Another student was adamant that independence is the key to a health-promoting digital structure.

“If Liberty had a program where we didn’t have to attend Zoom calls, I can tell you with one-hundred-percent assurance that I would get better sleep and more work done,” a dissatisfied respondent said.

Some might argue that time management is to blame for predicaments like these, but sitting in front of the screen for the better part of the day is a mandate for students. By the three o’ clock bell, there are only a few hours of daylight left to go outside during these winter monthsnot to mention the piles of homework students have left to complete. The net effect is drastically less time spent per day moving around and socializing compared to in-person school. 

In normal times, students engage with their environments constantly, and this forms an essential part of their education. It’s the little things that matter; boarding the bus or driving to school prepares one for the day, talking to friends before class provides a positive boost of motivation, and class consists of countless instances of real human interaction and interpersonal learning. Digital school replicates only a fraction of the educational experience, so why should we spend the same amount of time in class?

An especially sore topic on this issue is Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Though it may help some students, many feel that, as one respondent put succinctly, “SEL is a waste of time.” Is it rational for a plurality of students to sit dazed and unhearing through a class that is simply another reason they can’t go outside? For a class aimed at reducing mental health ailments, it is truly ironic that SEL claims Wednesday, a day that ought to serve as a respite from the stresses of scheduled school. 

These examples of disconnect between popular opinion among students and administrative policy are somewhat understandable, given the difficulty of making adjustments during a pandemic. But abolishing 24-hour homework turnaround times is not enough to give students their lives back. Students can adapt to this pandemic—it’s the 40-hour, fully remote work week that is causing so much damage.


*survey received 42 responses