The Collegian
Saturday, March 25, 2023

OPINION: How will remote college learning impact students' mental health?

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Since the onset of COVID-19, college students have faced a huge shift in their educational experience.

As colleges and universities across the country (and K-12 schools, too) begin weighing the decision to continue learning in-person or remotely, I wanted to take time to explore the mental health implications of virtual education. Is remote learning beneficial? Is it harmful? What considerations do we need to make for students with different learning styles, students with disabilities and students vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19? 

Many students around the world got a taste of roughly six weeks of learning from home last semester. In addition to the many challenges COVID-19 has presented for these students (e.g., returning to unsafe home environments, international students unable to return home because of travel bans, people with mental health conditions or substance use disorders living in increased social isolation, and more), many are unsure what the upcoming fall and spring semesters are going to be like.

A survey in June conducted by Core Spaces, a college housing developing company, revealed significant findings from a sample of 2,500 college students in terms of mental health, including:

  • Nearly 90% of respondents said they wanted to come back to campus when classes began in the fall.
  • More than three out of five (63.3%) respondents said the pandemic had resulted in economic difficulties for them and their families.
  • Nearly 60% of respondents said online classes had been a negative experience for them.
  • Nearly 8 out of 10 said they felt they would be more successful in studying remotely in their school apartments vs. their family’s homes.
  • Roughly 76% of respondents reported that their sleep patterns had changed.
  • Nearly 3 in 4 reported that they felt more anxious or stressed.
  • More than half (55.5%) of respondents reported that they felt more depressed or worried.
  • Only 12% of respondents reported they had seen a professional for physical or mental health.

Though this survey represented a small sample of college students in the U.S., it pulled data from 12 cities in 11 states, using representative sampling measures to ensure validity. 

With that data from Core Spaces along with other studies being conducted, it’s clear that online learning has presented unprecedented challenges for many students. The COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is still a rising issue. Consequently, there is a chance that colleges that announced fall reopening might have to readjust those plans. Many students might not be able to viably transition to online learning without the same resources colleges offer them — such as WiFi, computers, webcams and textbooks.

With that being said, educational psychologists around the country are researching ways to enhance online learning and prioritize learners’ and educators’ mental health. The American Council on Education has compiled this report for faculty in higher education to prioritize the needs of their students, even in socially distanced classrooms or remotely. 

I want to share some of the key findings from Active Minds, a mental health advocacy organization, that identifies students’ most urgent needs for educators and school leaders to address during remote periods of learning. In a survey of 2,086 college students, these were some of the responses:

  1. “Increased academic support: leniency, accommodations and flexibility
  2. More mental health resources: increased investment in counseling and coping resources
  3. Focus on soft skills: empathy, compassion, communication, understanding and validation for the burdens students are experiencing
  4. More opportunities for social connection: replace canceled events, services and classes with virtual ones
  5. Engage in long-term planning: Colleges need to be prepared to help students heal and recover when they return and put in place improved practices and protocols to more easily pivot to remote learning in case of another similar crisis.”

With these key findings, I hope that the University of Richmond and other institutions around the U.S. will focus on the needs of their own students. 

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As state economies begin to open and cases increase again, the unpredictability of the pandemic can certainly cause intense stress and uncertainty. With all of these factors considered, I have created a list of services, support groups, funding and information below for college-aged folks, educators and school leaders. 

Please feel free to share these resources to help protect people’s mental health. If you are an educator or university leader, remember to prioritize your mental health as well, as these can be immensely stressful times for all parties involved.

Direct Mental Health Services:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7, confidential and free

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 for distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones and best practices for professionals, or online chat here 

Mental Health America:

  • Free online screening tools for mental health conditions here
  • General resource list for COVID-19 and mental health here
  • For Virginia constituents:
    • The Mental Health America of Virginia Warm Line is available at 1-866-400-MHAV (6428) for mental health resources and referrals in Virginia
    • The Mental Health America of Virginia Warm Line is available through call or text at 877-349-6428 specifically for COVID-19-related virtual support

Crisis Text Line: 24/7, confidential and free

  • Free texting service that can be accessed by texting HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling

The Trevor Project: 24/7, confidential and free

  • A national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.
  • Call 1-866-488-7386 to access the TrevorLifeline suicide prevention and crisis intervention phone service or online chat here
  • Text START to 678-678 to access confidential 24/7 TrevorText with a counselor

Contact contributor Anna Marston at

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