By Zara Jhumra
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in January 2020, people are staying put in quarantine or isolation and mobility has been restricted in order to slow the spread of the virus.
As a consequence, social interactions have been limited while adults, youngsters and kids alike are confined to their homes. Though a necessary precaution, such confinement has an adverse impact on mental health – especially that of the youth and teenagers.
For many young students, college or university provides guaranteed regular social interaction. Whether it be participating in classes or conversing with friends, the opportunities to socialize are limitless. Educational institutions provide a safe space and substantial coping strategies to students with unstable home environments. Kids in abusive or toxic households may rely on them as refuge from the things they face at home, and such spaces being off-limits is likely to take a toll on their mental and in some cases, physical health.
With constant exposure to unhealthy stimuli and no positive anchor, there is an increase in negative feelings resulting in unhealthy coping mechanisms. In more extreme cases, facing constant toxicity and abuse can lead youth with pre-existing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety to engage in substance abuse and other types of self-destructive behavior.
Along with lack of socialization, the apparent elimination of a set regime from the daily lives of youth contributes heavily to deteriorating mental health. Students with pre-existing mental illness rely on routines for a sense of normalcy; this keeps the mind occupied and helps reduce stress levels.
“Sitting with your thoughts” has detrimental consequences for “overthinkers” and amplifies their negative emotions. Though a majority of educational institutions have moved their classes online, not physically being in an academic environment takes away from the seriousness of the classes and it seems there are no repercussions to slacking off in class, and with assignments.
Moreover, it is much more difficult to keep oneself focused and driven in an online class when there is a prevalent sense of uncertainty about the future. This, along with increased screen time and overconsumption of digital media, leads to news fatigue and rising levels of demotivation – taking away from productivity of students and the seriousness with which they regard their studies. This amplifies feelings of uselessness and lack of purpose.
On the contrary, there are several areas in Pakistan where attending online classes is impossible for students due to lack of internet access. Students of Kashmir, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can not attend online classes due to painfully slow internet. Protests were organized by students in these areas to demand either internet access or freezing of semesters in areas where there is no net facility.
In Quetta, dozens of students gathered outside the press club to protest against online classes. Students in Karachi took to the streets outside the Karachi Press Club to express solidarity against the unequal learning opportunities. Such problems can have a drastic effect on the mental wellbeing of students as they are missing out on their coursework and will fall behind their peers.
The final straw is witnessing the governments’ inefficiency to formulate and execute long-term plans during these trying times, which wreaks more havoc in already troubled minds. Being surrounded by certain civilians’ ignorance regarding the outbreak and its precautionary measures aggravates anxiety as well.
When all of the aforementioned factors come into play, they can lead to psychological manifestations such as restlessness, fatigue, and sleep problems. For students with mental illness, the amalgamation of such factors is a definite diagnosis of impending disaster for their health.
The writer is a freelance contributor.