Minds Matter: How quarantine and virtual school affects student mental health

Mental health is an important topic to discuss, especially with the current pandemic and social rights issues. Recently, students are pushed to adapt to different circumstances and communities are united more than ever. 

I wanted to get data and direct thoughts from high school and college students. In order to get some background information and data, I made a questionnaire with questions such as “Have you enjoyed quarantine so far? Why or why not?”, “How much have you been outside during quarantine”, “What is your impression so far on virtual school” and “How has the pandemic affected or not affected your mental wellbeing?” These questions allow me to see how each individual faces different problems that affect their mental health.

For numerical data, I included a scale from 1-5 for them to rate their overall mental health during quarantine; 1 being “The worst it has ever been” and 5 being “The best it has ever been.” Table 1 shows the answers among the students. I included another scale also from 1-5 for them to rate their level of excitement for school; 1 being “Not excited at all” and 5 being “Most excited.” Table 2 shows the answers among the students.

 

Student’s answer (rate your overall mental health during quarantine from 1-5) # of times chosen as student’s answer
1 (The worst it has ever been) 1
2 4
3 12
4 8
5 (The best it has ever been) 0

     Table 1

 

Student’s answer (rate your level of excitement for school from 1-5) # of times chosen as student’s answer
1 (Not excited at all) 0
2 7
3 6
4 8
5 (Most excited) 4

Table 2

 

In the questionnaire, I also included a question about whether the student was interested in a brief interview, so I can communicate with some of them and listen to their perspectives on a more personal level. There were many students that were interested to go forward with an interview. Even though I plan on engaging in a discussion with all of them, I interviewed a college student and a high school student.

Zia Grace is a rising senior at Wilbur Cross Comprehensive High School and enjoys watching anime. Like most high school students, she uses the app TikTok a lot at home. She starts school on September 3rd and is attending it virtually.

Ayoola Titiloye was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States four years ago. Ayoola is a third-year student at Stratford University and studies hospitality management. She is an extrovert and likes to go out to movies and eat popcorn, getting dinner with friends, and just being outside. She is also a germaphobe and loves to meet new people. 

 

Have you enjoyed quarantine so far? Why or why not?

Zia Grace: “For the most part, I have enjoyed staying home. I prefer learning at home because I do not like waking up early — I usually miss the bus. With the quarantine, I also get to know myself a little bit better and figure out what I like, what I don’t like, and anything that I might want to improve on myself when I am by myself or around others. Also, it has helped me actually get involved with what I like.”

 

Ayoola Titiloye: “It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions; some days I’m like ‘Oh yay, I can stay in’ while other times I’m like ‘I’m having cabin fever, can I get out of here?” The whole coronavirus pandemic can really show you the person you have been spending time with. You think you know the person but this whole pandemic has shown who is who and shows people’s true colors. You can really see who is being selfish and who is actually being selfless in this situation. It’s been a lot that happened during this pandemic like social justice issues that has made it even more painful. But there has also been a lot of joy seeing people come together in a community, helping each other, parents and teachers making sure their students are getting the education they deserve, even though they can’t see them face to face. So that’s why I see it as a rollercoaster of ups and downs.”

 

How has quarantine made a positive impact or a negative impact on your mental health?

Zia Grace: “It has made a mostly positive impact because since I was on TikTok so much, I ended up following people and was like this applies to me. So I would google some stuff that they talked about, this is how I could improve myself, make myself better. Especially with the different self-care sides of TikTok where they give tips trying to get clear-skin and workout tips. For the most part, it’s positive, but since like I live in a minority household, mental health is not really addressed nor neglected. But since I was on TikTok so much, I just figured out growing up in a household that doesn’t address but dismisses mental health is not good for me while I am growing up. Especially growing up with like generational trauma, it made me realize my parents push stuff that they faced onto me. They may not have realized it but they did, so I was like ok, now I have to figure out how to get through this. Luckily, I’m in my last year of high school and I’m going to college next year, so that gives me a way to get out of it to have a healthy relationship with myself and my family.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “I would say a negative impact on my mental health is that I have spent so much time on my own. I have more time to think and so I overthink and overanalyze, which has not been great on my mental wellbeing. But I also have time to reflect on myself and how I can better myself career-wise personally, my relationships, professional and personal. So it has been bittersweet for my mental health.”

 

During quarantine, have you experienced feeling less passionate about an activity you usually enjoy, such as work, exercise or any hobbies?

Zia Grace: “I really like writing and since I started watching different shows, I discovered fan fiction and Wattpad. I know I wanted to do this for myself because it’s fun and would grow my experience as a writer. As we started to grow into quarantine, I kind of lost inspiration since all I have been doing is staying home, and being with family did not help. They always say ‘too much of a good thing is never a good thing.’ Along with that, I have been on and off with some of my interests like watching anime, I will watch half of one season and stop for a couple weeks and pick it back up with a different show. I am between ten right now and haven’t picked them up since May.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “During quarantine, I have felt less motivated to read novels. Sometimes I just want to lay in bed all day.  I used to enjoy eating food and snacks. My appetite has been really bad during this quarantine. For the first four months of quarantine, I did not prioritize exercise. But recently, I have started exercising and it has made a huge impact on my mental health.”

 

Have you learned anything new about yourself during quarantine?

Zia Grace: “Actually yes, since we are starting school soon, I have been able to reintroduce myself at writing. I have been involved with an organization called Crescent Novels, so I am writing for them and it’s really fun. Since I’ve been on TikTok so much, I discovered I am part of the LGBT community; I identity as bisexual and I haven’t come [out to] parents yet but it’s something I have discovered about myself.” 

Ayoola Titiloye: “I am more in touch with why something affects me the way it does. Things that I already do, I have gotten a better sense of why this is not for me and why this is for me. I have also definitely confirmed that I am an extrovert.”

 

Could you tell me about any time(s) over the past few months that you have been bothered by low feelings, stress, or sadness?

Zia Grace: “There were times as the school year was coming to a close that I would feel stressed or low in general. Since I was a junior last year, I wasn’t able to take my SATs, and with the number of cases rapidly growing between May and July, I felt my chances of having somewhat of a normal school year diminishing as time goes on. Especially after I visited a nearby friend for her birthday that I felt like I wouldn’t be able to have moments like these again. Every few weeks I would be on TikTok and I’d come across a video with the #classof2021. When I looked at other videos from the past few months with the same hashtag I’d feel stressed because since the US couldn’t get a handle on the first wave of COVID-19, nearly 2 grades of students have had to suffer the consequences.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “The beginning times of quarantine with George Floyd and the one that happened recently. Then there was something good that happened because I love the Jonas Brothers. I am a huge Jonas Brother fan. One of the Jonas Brothers had a baby two days after my birthday, I was really happy about that. So, it’s the little things that can give you joy during these times.”   

 

How did you cope with low-feelings during quarantine?

Zia Grace: “Even though I haven’t been writing much, I have been reading a lot more and watching some organization YouTube videos that help me want to get back on track. I have been casually working out, not like a big routine, but something I’m easing myself back into. I bake occasionally, it’s not often but I just think it’s fun; It’s a bit of a stress reliever and I like sweets. Plus, every other week, my grandmother would take me and my sister on a quick shopping trip either to Walmart or a Target, which always is fun.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “Before I tried not to be vocal because  I Didn’t want to make people comfortable. But now it was getting to the point where enough is enough, you have to say something. I became more vocal. When I gave my opinion on things, I felt better, I signed petitions, shared information, and tried to update my friends on things they need to be educated on. I am still handling things the same way, doing what I have to do, doing my part; everyone has to do their part.”

 

What do you think is the worst part about virtual school?

Zia Grace: “The worst part of virtual school is just not seeing my friends because I miss them. We don’t hang out that much. Something that‘s not all bad but kind of bad is having us show our faces, while I understand that I’m just like I don’t want to show my face to these people/ Like when I sent up a zoom account, I just put a picture of myself. Hey, this is me, I’m just gonna hop on and you’ll just see my picture.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “I think that we are home well just pile on the work. “They got nothing else to do, just give it to them!”

 

What do you think is the best part of virtual school?

Zia Grace: “I prefer being online than being in-person because I know people at my school that would not take it seriously at all; they would cough on someone for fun or just won’t wear a mask. Luckily, my city is a sanctuary city in Connecticut so it won’t be too common here. But with everything going on, I know some people won’t take it seriously if it was in-person school.”

Ayoola Titiloye: “The best part of virtual school is that I’m reading more. Before when I am getting up, I always have to run to class and have to do something; I don’t spend as much time reading. But I have actually been reading more articles for school.”

 

What feelings do you have about virtual school – scared, excited, relieved, angry, and why?

Zia-Grace: “I am in-between excited and in grief. I am excited because I don’t have to risk myself and my family by going in-person. But I’m in grief because I’ll miss senior year in-person and I won’t be able to make new memories.”  

Ayoola Titiloye: “Mixed feelings — some days I am like “oh this is great!” Other days I’m like “Ugh what is this, I don’t like this.” But I guess we can make it work if we all analyze the program and give feedback so it’s better suited for every student going through virtual school right now.”