Students grabbing a quick coffee and fresh air on the Rooiplein in-between online classes. Photo: Karla de Bod.

Mental Health, Online Learning and COVID-19

BY KARLA DE BOD

Repetitive days and endless nights form a recipe that affects the mental welfare of students. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken its toll on students’ physical health, but their mental health as well.

It has been over a year since students had to alter their realities to conform to the new and enforced reality brought to us by the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a relief and seemingly mini-break from academics in March 2020, quickly turned into endless days behind computer screens on the SUNLearn dashboard. 

For most students, there is no difference between week and weekend as every day seems to repeat itself; wake up, open SUNLearn, work through the newly uploaded PowerPoints, perhaps have a snack break, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. 

According to an article published in The Conversation titled “How the pandemic is hurting university students’ mental health” published in May, mental health was one of the challenges that hampered students’ ability to learn online during the COVID-19 pandemic through its models of teaching.

The article states that with the current hybrid-teaching model, challenges with time management, distraction and discipline emerge as students are unable to stay motivated and focused within off-campus learning spaces. 

Undergraduate students were twice more likely, and full-time students four times more likely, to indicate mental health issues than postgraduate and part-time students. These include stress, anxiety and depression, according to the article.

Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Student Counselling and Development (CSCD) has made several resources available to provide students with academic and emotional support as students are heading closer to exams. 

The CSCD encourages students to prepare for an online assessment the same way that they would any other assessment, as the purpose of the assessment remains the same. According to the CSCD, a student’s mark is a representation of their academic progress, not a representation of who they are. 

Further, the CSCD suggests that change causes feelings of stress, doubt and demotivation. To this they added that change, along with uncertainty, make us doubt ourselves, our abilities, career options and even relationships. These feelings of doubt spiral into feelings of demotivation and low levels of energy, which affect students’ mental health and may develop into depression. 

Therefore, the CSCD advises students to focus on concerns that they are able to control, instead of trying to gain control over aspects of their life that cannot be changed by them. 

While we are uncertain of what lies ahead within this chaos, we can choose to believe that in the midst of chaos, there are opportunities – we just have to find them.

Contact information for academic and emotional support:

Centre for Student Counselling & Development:

021 808 4707 

studysuccess@sun.ac.za

Unit for Academic Counselling & Development:

021 808 4707

studysuccess@sun.ac.za

Unit for Psychotherapeutic & Support Services:

021 808 4994 (Stellenbosch campus)

021 938 9590 (Tygerberg campus)

supportus@sun.ac.za

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