COVID-19 and Mental Health of Freshmen

Ashlesha Mishra, Staff Writer

Every fall, students move into the next grade, beginning a new school year. However, September 2020 has been proven to be completely different from the past. The shift into remote learning has affected all students significantly, but high school freshmen are facing a different challenge as they are transitioning into a new school and system without knowing many people.

Having to deal with seven different classes and homework from each of them, schoolwork can bring a lot of stress upon students. Studying in isolation from friends and other students can only add to the loneliness that they deal with. According to the Health Center, “Research shows that extended periods of loneliness can deteriorate mental and physical health outcomes over time, leading to depression, musculoskeletal disorders, and even chronic disease.” Working without interaction with others can be extremely hard, especially when you cannot communicate with your friends. While it is possible to make new friends, it is not easy to do so in Zoom classes. Freshman Neha Murumalla said, “I have not really made many friends, but I have met a couple of people.” Unless pushed by the teacher, students do not speak much with each other and have very low interaction with one another. However, students do understand that the remote learning system is just as new for teachers as it is for students. Murumalla adds, “All my teachers are doing amazing, and I completely understand that it’s hard to be perfect, but they really are trying!”

To help freshmen transition to high school, IHS implemented Eagle Crew, a group of upperclassmen that support and guide freshmen through their first year. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the connection that students develop with their Eagle Crew leaders as well. Freshman Gavin Zhou says that the Eagle Crew leaders are “not really [helpful]. It’s not that I have anything against them, it’s just that they’ve barely had opportunities to help.” Freshman Nikita Nikishin is a new student to the Issaquah School District. Nikishin states, “I don’t like online school.” He added, “[It is important to have] a basic understanding that these are tough times for everyone. Teachers should be more flexible and lenient.”

With so many possible issues due to technical difficulties, excessive screen time, an extreme drop in social interaction, and much more, several students are having a hard time including extracurricular and stress buster activities. Zhou stated, “I feel like every day is just about filled with school work, and outside activities make it so that I have to sacrifice something.” Studies have also proven that the people involved in athletics or non-academic activities are feeling a rise in stress. A survey taken by 25 ABC News recorded, “[A] majority of the student athletes reported ‘experiencing high rates of mental distress since the pandemic. Over a third reported experiencing sleep difficulties, more than a quarter reported feeling sadness and a sense of loss, and one in 12 reported feeling so depressed it has been difficult to function, ‘constantly’ or ‘most every day.’’” With schoolwork taking up most of a student’s time, it becomes difficult for them to look after their own mental health and results in students having to sacrifice their study habits or free time.

On top of out-of-school stresses, there are also academic-related worries that students are dealing with. Starting freshman year opens a doorway to a lot of planning for college and a potential career. Forbes states, “Results of schools shutting down, jobs being lost, and college students’ uncertainty of when and how they will be able to resume classes and move towards careers,” has become a point of doubt for high-schoolers, especially freshmen planning their futures. Students planning on taking running start courses and preparing for college develop a lot of doubt as nothing is set in place as of now. This can only increase the mental pressure upon students planning the rest of their lives and add to their tensions.

While having classes through Zoom calls has its cons such as students feeling awkward to speak when everyone else is muted, especially for those who have an introverted personality, there are some aspects that students are enjoying, too. Freshman Tina Zou agrees with Zhou, saying, “I am liking the new start time because I can get more sleep.” For now, it can be assumed that schools will remain in the remote setting until at least the end of 2020. While staying in this learning environment, students can follow some advice given by Psychology Today. For example, “Students can engage in a variety of activities that can protect their mental health and enhance their psychological resilience. Such activities may lead to some small shoots of hope, growth, and renewal—all of which are desperately needed in this time of COVID-19 crisis.” To bring stability to their mental health, freshmen can spend time in activities that bring peace and calm to their minds or distract them from the extreme amounts of workload that they are receiving for some time.

Overall, freshmen students must wait to be able to return to school for in-person learning but can find methods to reduce the stress that comes upon them due to the online learning system.