These days, Natasha Osman would sit in front of her laptop, her fingers fiddling with the wire of her earphones as she waited for her turn to speak.
For the National University of Singapore (NUS) student, she could feel the nerves running through her with each Zoom class – her palms sweaty as she prepared to answer a question.
The moment the 22-year-old unmuted her microphone and opened her mouth, she felt herself freeze as the thoughts and vision of her classmates, from the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, blurred.
She felt as though she was drowning in water as she tried to gasp for air, her lecturer’s concerned voice fading in and out of her ears.
As soon as the dreaded feeling was over, she muted herself while – seemingly unable to speak further – her thoughts interrupted by her cats’ purring in her room.
Natasha is not alone. Some students cheered while others jeered when most schools started home-based learning on May 19. For many students, home-based learning (HBL) meant – among other mental health struggles – coping with the anxiety of being seen and speaking up for participation points during lessons.
“Although I have no issue with turning on my camera,” Natasha told AsiaOne, “I feel immense pressure to participate during lessons especially since the majority of the modules I’m taking now have graded class participation.”
Having started HBL since last year’s circuit breaker, she added that an increased percentage of graded class participation meant increased competitiveness among students in the digital space.
She said: “The competitiveness among students had worsened my discomfort and anxiety before and during lessons, especially since I find it terrifying and difficult to ideate or answer questions on the spot.”
Campus Technology conducted a recent survey of over 1,000 college students in the United States, addressing the struggles they faced while learning during a pandemic. 63 per cent said their overall learning experience was worse. Meanwhile, 53 per cent of online students and 38 per cent of in-person students felt the same.
“I think I’m more productive in school than at home,” Republic Polytechnic (RP) student Manushri Rajesvaran told AsiaOne. “There are a lot more teamwork-based assignments that require communication among the group which is tougher to do if it is online.”
Anxiety Heightens Online Communication
Manushri attending home-based learning on her laptop at her desk. Image courtesy: Manushri Rajesvaran
Some students like Manushri, who studies human resource and psychology, find it uncomfortable to keep their microphones and cameras switched on and engage in online team discussions due to existing living conditions.
“As I live in a household of seven members, it can get quite noisy as my family members are very loud,” the 20-year-old told AsiaOne. “I get really anxious whenever our lecturers would ask us to turn on our camera and mic for presentations as I am afraid that they might hear the chaos around me.”
“I also struggle to present sometimes as the pressure of being put on the spot with everyone watching makes me feel uneasy,” she added, who started HBL on May 19.
According to media reports, students are often expected to turn on their camera for the entire lesson to ensure that they stay focused.
While this may help educators ensure students pay attention, the prolonged eye contact during lessons may feel uncomfortable for some. It creates the feeling as though everyone is watching, and students may be distracted as they are seemingly more aware of how they appear on camera.
Meanwhile, secondary one student Danish Muhammad Noordin has learnt to enjoy HBL, since it started on May 19. The 13-year-old told AsiaOne: “I can wake up a bit later and end school earlier, which gives me more time to relax.”
Though he was worried about his performance during lessons, he does not feel pressured when it comes to openly answering questions in class.
He added: “I would say I am a very confident person so I have no worry turning on my camera when the teacher tells me to.”
Common Mental Health Issues Students Face
Image courtesy: Pexels
The top three common mental health struggles students face include anxiety, social connectedness, and irritation students feel at home, founder and principal psychologist at The Therapy Room (TTR) Dr Geraldine Tan told AsiaOne.
She said: “As the method of teaching is different, online learning has been tough for many students as they require a more dynamic learning environment.
“They are anxious as they cannot understand the lessons.”
Additionally, being confined at home with their families is another challenge students face – some feel that their home environment is not an ideal place to work or study in.
Manushri, who lives with seven family members, found it a challenge to work and study with limited space. She said: “There will always be noise despite telling them to quieten down and they would somehow disrupt my presentations.”
Given the situation, Dr Tan explained that the number of students that have sought help had increased about 10 to 15 per cent over the last year.
In addition, Dr Tan shared that the recent cases are due to the “prolonged situation that did not seem to ease but appear to be worsening”.
She added: “(We should) understand that these teens need their space from home and to find their identities.”
Also, some students who struggle with mental health issues tend to seek help without their parent’s knowledge as they fear being dismissed, according to media reports.
Dr Tan highlighted that there are times whereby students may turn to external help instead of their school counsellors.
She said there could be several reasons but the common ones include not wanting their friends to know about their struggles, some worry about the information being in their records, while others were recommended from friends to seek external help.
Mental health Care Tips
Dr Tan suggested five ways for students to cope with their mental health struggles:
1. Stay connected with friends and family as social isolation can cause your mood to dip.
2. Include exercise as part of your daily routine to perk up your day.
3. Eat healthily as a poor diet can affect your mood and cause sluggishness. With many students holed up at home – or in their rooms – they would snack or order meals that may be balanced.
4. Have a to-do list, and keep to it. It helps to keep you on track and motivated. Strike the items off the list as you go along.
5. Instead of just watching Netflix, challenge and stimulate your brain with reading or playing board games.
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
- Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
- Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
This article was first published on AsiaOne and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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