COVID-19 befell upon us like impending doom. We have completed a year in front of our laptops, attending classes. Initially, it was fun attending classes without getting ready or rushing to college, but the screen time has now become overwhelming.
Zero social contact and a longer duration of screen time have impacted our mental health. Mental health is still one of the major concerns in India that everybody talks about but doesn’t do anything about.
It is high time now that we acknowledge it and act upon it. We are social animals and we just can’t live in isolation depending on technology. But the times are so desperate that we can’t even stand for our loved ones even if we want to. And amidst this chaos, our classes don’t stop.
With the advent of COVID-19 and total lockdown, classes were shifted on virtual platforms, as cool as it sounds at first, it is all the more heart-wrenching. Initially, the teachers and the students had that zeal but with the monotonous routine, we lost it all.
Dr. Kannan Gireesh, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and founder of Live Life Education believes, “Many children have become bored with online classes. In certain schools, online classes are very monotonous.
Hence, what these students are doing is switching off the camera and doing other activities. It’s like time passes for them. Not only mental health, but they are also facing some health problems like eye strain, headaches, and fatigue from seeing the screen for such a long time. Besides, sports education and extracurricular classes have also stopped”.
Contracting the virus and losing our loved ones to it was just too much to focus on anything but, the only thing our administration was worried about was our assignments and activities, deadlines, and submissions.
After almost six hours of attending online classes, we had to sit for another five to six hours for daily assignments and activities.
The whole process is so exhausting that at the end of the day, we don’t have time for ourselves let alone our families. The increasing pressure is benumbing and our mental health takes a toll, triggering new changes in mental health and mood. Physical and mental health are closely related, deteriorated physical health leads to stress and anxiety. Therefore, sitting half a day in front of a laptop is neither physically recommended nor mentally.
Ophthalmologists recommend taking a break from screen time after every 20 minutes and changing the lighting to avoid glare and reflections, as it may lead to eye strain. Eye strain may further cause constant and severe headaches, causing anxiety and fatigue. Our worked-up bodies need to lie down after work. But the girls are expected to assist their mothers in the household chores or take care of the family members, due to which females are affected more by the pandemic.
Social distancing also leads to anxiety and feeling of loneliness. As social interaction with our peers allows us to express ourselves freely without any judgments. Many introvert students don’t get comfortable on-screen without knowing her/his classmates and how they would respond, which also increases the stress levels. Various studies have shown that social isolation may result in higher rates of negative outcomes for mental and physical health, and social interactions can help reduce depression and anxiety.
The digital world will never be able to take up face-to-face interactions, not even with AI-based software. A sense of belongingness is lost in virtual reality. Spending almost half of the day online can fatigue both the students and the teachers, which is commonly referred to as ‘zoom fatigue’.
Our brain is not suited for online communications as it is moulded to process non-verbal cues as well, from body language. In virtual classes, it becomes difficult to notice these cues, for eg, facial expressions, eye contact, body language, tone and pitch of the voice, etc. and our brain works harder to interpret the information. This causes extra mental fatigue and stress levels also start rising with a constant awareness of being in front of the camera.
We were already dealing with all this when we were hit by the second wave of the pandemic that demanded all our attention with surging deaths nearby. And our faculty was just expecting assignments and tests from us. Many of the students and teachers were tested positive and had lost their close ones, we all needed a break from our classes.
We at IIMC constantly requested the faculties for an off and after several requests, they granted us fifteen days off from online classes. Such issues must not be underestimated as it threatens the well-being of the institution’s constituents. Not only the students but also the faculties are overburdened with the additional workload and they make a constant attempt to make their classes interactive, which altogether brings in a lot of mental pressure and anxiety.
Course Director of English Journalism- IIMC, Surbhi Dahiya, and her whole family was tested positive and she lost her mother-in-law and her father to COVID. While addressing the students, she said that she understands more than anyone what the students are going through. Even after cremating her loved ones, she was busy arranging the workshops for the students.
Every institution should understand the importance of addressing the mental health issues of the students, and the faculty members are at the front line of responsibility to address the mental health issues. When we had physical classes, we could easily share our feelings and emotional breakdowns with our peers and friends but in offline classes, the students who are living alone are left unobserved.
“I am stuck in Delhi due to the lockdown and I can’t even go to my family. Living alone has become so overwhelming that I just can’t figure out how to utilize my time. I am in such a state that I don’t even feel like doing anything, let alone attending classes and doing assignments”, Raghav, a student of IIMC commented on what it feels like to live alone during the pandemic.
Therefore, the faculty becomes the primary direct contact for online students and they must understand the gravity of the situation and connect with them to help. Everybody just pretends to understand the severity of the mental health of the students but nobody cares about it. Most educational institutes still don’t have a counselor to address the emotional and mental needs of the students.
We all, students, teachers, family members, community leaders, and health officials, need to come together and help each other as the world grapples with controlling the worsening situation. The government took its measures by launching Kiran helpline, India’s first national mental helpline for mental support, crisis management, and suicide prevention. Now we need to stand together to empathize with each other and understand each other in such dire times.
Students of IIMC took an initiative and started a support group, where the students could talk freely and share their feelings so that they could help each other during the need of an hour.
Virtual classes do impose a challenge to our physical and mental health but we can try to overcome the stress and anxiety by managing certain things.