All-online college courses linked to worse student mental health: study – The Hill

Story at a glance

  • College students who attend classes entirely online report more psychological stress than their peers who attend class in a hybrid format.

  • Before COVID-19, American youth faced a growing mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • The researchers suggest that mental health professionals consider how course delivery models affect mental health outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many higher education institutions switch from in-person learning to entirely online courses in an effort to reduce transmission of the disease.

But new research suggests that remote classes can do more harm to students’ mental health, compared to a combination of online and in-person courses.

Data from 59,250 full-time undergraduate students shows that those who attended fully online classes reported higher levels of stress than their peers, regardless of current anxiety or depressive disorders, COVID-19 concerns and time spent communicating with friends.

The authors who wrote in JAMA Network is open.

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They added: “Faculties should be aware of the mental health burden associated with attending classes entirely online and consider the in-person components and possible support for students.”

The findings come on the heels of reports of a growing mental health crisis among American youth. Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, more than 60 percent of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to American Psychological Association.

“Compared to before the pandemic, the prevalence of depressive symptoms among US adults ages 18 to 39 during the pandemic had quadrupled by April 2020,” the JAMA authors wrote.

Stressors such as the loss of a loved one, financial hardship, racial discrimination, or moving back in with their parents could have influenced this spike in poor mental health.

To better understand the impact of course delivery models on students, researchers evaluated data from a national survey of college health conducted between January and June 2021.

All of the participants were attending four-year programs, the average student age was around 21 and the majority of the students were female.

Of those surveyed, 3.5 percent attended fully in-person classes, 61.2 percent attended fully online classes, and 35.3 percent attended a combination of in-person and online lessons.

The authors hypothesize that course models with some personal component could be better for students, because they maintain a degree of normality.

In fully distance learning environments, many have faced challenges with limited access to the Internet or technology, as well as missing out on extracurricular activities, internships, or study abroad opportunities.

Social relationships with friends are also likely to be more difficult, and students may have been given the option to sign up for fully online or partially online classes.

“This increased perceived control can also help mitigate the negative impact of stressful situations,” the authors wrote.

Some students report feeling distracted or procrastinating in online learning environments and may be less motivated to communicate with professors in the absence of face-to-face interactions.

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