Student Mental Health in Higher Education

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Abstract

The state whereby an individual is fully aware of their psychological potential and can effectively handle psychological pressure is referred to as mental health. The literature review aims to examine how online learning, student debts, and racism affect students’ mental health in higher learning institutions. The literature review additionally highlights further research studies and questions of each literature analyzed. Students in higher learning institutions experience various mental health issues that affect their academic performances, social lives, and physical health. The literature review will analyze three mental themes affecting students in higher learning that include (a) how online learning affects students’ mental health; (b) how student debts affect students’ mental health; (c) how racism on campus affects student’s mental health. The research was conducted on previous peer-reviewed journals from websites like American Educational Research, American Journal of Educational, Journal of Black Psychology, and Sociology of Education. The results of the research are that online learning has negative and positive effects on students’ mental health. Additionally, students’ debt and racism negatively affect students’ mental health.

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How Online Learning Affects Students’ Mental Health

Social Isolation

Social isolation is the first salient way that online learning has negatively affected students’ mental health in higher learning institutions. Online learning encompasses students engaging in the teaching and learning process remotely from their homes, campus residential, or cyber cafes. This thereby reduces the situations whereby students could meet with each other physically while attending physical lectures and socially engage with each other (Park et al., 2016). Online learning reduces these forms of physical socialization, thereby increasing mental health issues among students in higher learning institutions. According to Park et al. (2016), physical association and mental health are intertwined, thereby social isolation adverse mental health issues among students. Social isolation created by online learning creates a state of loneliness amongst students, leading to increased mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and, in extreme forms, leads to suicides.

Moreover, behavioral psychologists argue that students suffering from mental health issues like anxiety and depression greatly benefit from physical socialization. Engaging with other students enables them to forget about their mental problems. Group discussions, class debates, and co-curriculum engage students’ minds and emotions in the topics being discussed, thereby drawing their attention away from the mental health issues affecting them. However, online learning reduces all these forms of physical socialization, thereby increasing the frequency of mental health issues among students in higher learning institutions. Further research that arises from the article is how face-to-face learning negatively affects the mental health of students.

Increased Stress and Anxiety

The second way that online learning negatively affects students’ mental health is it increases anxiety and stress. Despite earlier existing forms of online learning in institutions of higher learning, the teaching and learning method was not adequately incorporated in the lives of students. The covid-19 pandemic suddenly forced learning institutions to adopt online learning as the core and only teaching and learning method to impact students’ knowledge, skills, and educational information (Zhao, 2020). Many students had inadequate training on how to participate in the online learning process effectively. This inadequacy creates tension among the students as they feel pressured to participate in the learning and teaching process effectively. This tension level subsequently increases anxiety and stress levels among students that negatively affect their mental health.

Additionally, students cannot receive educational support from their peers or educational instructor’s when participating in online learning processes. According to Zhao (20202), in the traditional physical face-to-face learning process, when students do not fully comprehend a topic taught, they can easily approach their fellow students or their lecturers for further discussions, thereby understanding the topic better. However, online learning complexity makes it hard for students to seek additional educational help from their fellow students and lecturers; thereby, the matter is not effectively understood by the student (Zhao, 2020). This creates anxiety and stress levels within the student as they feel they cannot effectively handle the topic; thereby, they fear they will fail examinations about the subject, leading to adverse outcomes in their mental health. A further research study that arises from the article is how do universities ensure online learning effectively facilitates the teaching and learning process.

The Stress of Extra Costs

The third way that online learning negatively affects students’ mental health is the stress of acquiring extra costs associated with online learning. Students are always required to pay their tuition fees before engaging in the teaching and learning process in any institution of higher learning. The tuition fees majorly cater to face-to-face learning; therefore, extra costs are required for the students to engage in the online learning process. According to Bockerman et al. (2021), most students engaging in online learning must have quality internet-connecting devices like laptops, personal computers, or tablets. Moreover, they have to ensure that they pay for the internet charges for robust connectivity to efficiently facilitate the teaching and learning process over online media like zoom or google hangouts applications.

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These extra costs may be difficult to obtain for some students, especially students from low socioeconomic status or students on scholarships. The lack of funds to purchase internet devices and internet connectivity creates a sense of anxiety for students. This makes students wonder where they will find money to pay for the internet or repair their devices in case of failures, as they will have to incur extra repair costs (Bockerman et al., 2021). Additionally, students also incur additional costs to seek a tutor’s help on how to effectively use complex software and systems associated with using complex software and systems associated with online learning effectively be conversant with MATLAB application to solve mathematical calculations virtually. Therefore, these students will require tutors who are skilled in using MATLAB applications; this will result in extra costs incurred by the students. Further research questions arise from the article if students from high-income families face any challenges accessing internet devices for online learning.

Reduced Peer Pressure

However, online learning also has positive effects on students’ mental health in higher learning institutions. The first way online learning positively affects students’ mental health in higher learning institutions is that it leads to reduced peer pressure experienced by students. Peer pressure that is more profound in face-to-face learning than online learning can lead to loss of self-confidence and increased stress among students (Michael, 2020). Students on campus face various forms of peer pressure, like the pressure to be associated with popular students and feel accepted. Students in higher learning institutions tend to be recognized as popular students or associated with popular students. This forces them to emulate the habits and characters of popular students, including their dressing patterns, eating patterns, and socialization patterns.

Mental pressure is created among students as they strive to acquire the ‘requirements’ of them to be popular as a result of peer pressure. This eventually results in negative outcomes on their mental health when they fail to acquire the lifestyle to make them feel famous. According to Michael (2020), the students that are considered infamous are victimized and segregated and experience moments of loneliness. This negatively affects their mental health as they feel unwanted and feel worthless. However, this social pressure is significantly reduced through online learning as students engage in the teaching and learning process from the comfort of their houses. There is no pressure to dress in any particular way or be famous; thereby, there is less segregation of students depending on their popularity, which subsequently improves students’ mental health. The further research study that arises from the literature is how socioeconomic status influences their peer-pressure experience.

Improved Self-Confidence

The second way that online learning positively affects students’ mental health in higher learning institutions is that it improves the self-confidence of introverted students. Introvert students are known to be shy and rarely participate in physical discussions as they feel uncomfortable in such scenarios. This leads to limited and reduced engagement in educational seminars and debates that are helpful in their course study (Lischer et al., 2021). Moreover, these students in extreme scenarios may skip lecturers in efforts to avoid confrontation and engagement with other students. Missing classes and limited engagement in educational discussions may result in poor academic performance of introverted students that leads to negative outcomes on their mental health.

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Additionally, Lischer et al. (2021) note that extroverted students overshadow the presence of introverted students as they thrive in such scenarios with strong outgoing characters. This leads to more attention being paid to extroverted students over introverted students regarding discussion points, choices, and preferences. Extroverted students in face-to-face learning frequently downplay suggestions, facts, or choices made by introverted students due to their loud voice and ability to sway others to their side easily. This makes introverted students feel worthless, unrecognized, and uncomfortable in situations where many people negatively affect their mental health. However, introverted students are more confident in the online learning process and easily share their opinions and options as it is mainly through typing words or virtually speaking at their comfort.

Moreover, group assignments are distributed among the students. A compilation is made later on by the group leader, which gives introverted students a chance to share their knowledge, making them feel worthy effectively. This sense of being respected and not being overshadowed by extroverted students improves the self-confidence of introverted students and subsequently affects their mental health positively. A further research study that arises from the article is how to encourage the participation of introverted students in face-to-face learning.

How Student Debts Affect Students Mental Health

Types of Loans

Private, Parent PLUS, Unsubsidized, and Subsidized are the four major categories of loans available for higher learning institutions. Personal loans are mainly acquired from private entities like commercial banks, credit unions, or student institutions. Private loans have a high-interest rate as federal commercial regulations do not regulate them, and the students are required to pay the loans almost immediately (Peabody Institute, 2017). Parent PLUS are federal loans that are issued under the student’s parent name, making the parent legally responsible for the payment of the loans. The article, however, does not explain if the student will be legally responsible for paying the loan if the parent fails to pay the loan issued.

Unsubsidized and subsidized are federal loans given to the students to enable them to pursue their careers in institutions of higher learning. Taxes pay subsidized loans’ interest from the taxpayer while the student is pursuing their undergraduate degree and also when they are pursuing their master’s degree. The loans are issued to students with financial needs and who have qualified, depending on the selection criteria. According to Peabody Institute (2017), subsidized loans are better than unsubsidized loans as the student is responsible for paying their interest under the unsubsidized loan category. Scholars have argued that despite these students’ loans being very significant in helping students pursue their career dreams, they have been a source of mental health issues. Students are anxious about getting the funds to pay off their mandatory loan interest, like under unsubsidized and private loan systems. This has led to the deterioration of mental health among students in institutions of higher learning. A further research area in the article will be to examine if students who receive subsidized loans also experience pressure to pay off their student loans.

Increased Pressure to Repay Loans

The first way that Students’ debts negatively impact students’ mental health in higher learning institutions is by exerting pressure on them to repay the loans. The unsubsidized and private student loan system requires the students to immediately start paying off their student loans while still pursuing their chosen degree program. This mandatory loan repayment has created a sense of tension among the students as they are constantly worried about where they will get the funds to pay off their loans. Students with student debts not only have to worry about where they will stay, what they will eat, or what they will wear but additionally have to be concerned about how they will pay off their accumulating student loan interest. This affects the student’s psychological state, thereby leading to adverse mental health outcomes (White, 2020). According to White (2020), students’ financial burden has exerted immense pressure on students, thereby developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress.

Moreover, Tanesha White acknowledges that the increase in tuition fees has resulted in the acquisition of higher amounts of student loans, which creates more pressure on students to find the funds to pay their huge student debt (White, 2020). The article accurately acknowledges that it is more financially cumbersome to participate in the learning process in higher learning institutions in modern times compared to past years due to the rise in the country’s economy. The article, however, does not state if students in past years also experienced pressure to pay off their student loans when the country’s economy was in a better position.

Part-time Jobs

Secondly, student loans have negatively affected students’ mental health in higher learning institutions by forcing them to seek part-time jobs to repay their students’ debts. According to Johnson (2019), the increased amount of student debts and mandatory payment of loan interests have coerced students to find part-time jobs to be able to pay the debts and interest. The majority of the students who apply and receive student loans are low-income, so they cannot comfortably pay off their loan interests, thereby seeking another alternative source of income (Johnson, 2019). Several students have been reported to work in coffee shops, loading docks, car washes, construction sites, and other predominantly female students become part-time babysitters. These part-time jobs are sought to create an extra income source that caters to the student’s well-being and is also used to pay off their accumulating student loan debts. Students are exposed to additional pressure and abuse both physically and mentally while working in part-time jobs.

Moreover, the students mainly work for more hours with little pay, and some work under extreme conditions that further deteriorate the students’ mental health. The majority of employers take advantage of the students’ need to earn extra cash to frustrate them physically and mentally as the students’ job options are limited due to lack of academic papers that will earn them lucrative and high-income earning jobs. According to Johnson (2019), students experience pressure to balance their schoolwork and their part-time job hours, which results in more mental pressure like anxiety and stress that negatively affect their mental health. The article further researches an area to examine if students who engage in part-time jobs perform less well than students who do not engage in part-time employment.

Drug and Substance Abuse

Drug and substance abuse is an additional mental health issue that arises from the presence of student debts and loans. The article defines drug and substance abuse as the use of psychoactive drugs and illegal drugs irregular patterns with efforts to alter the mood of the person using them (Bittar, 2018). Students in institutions of higher learning are known to be engaged in drug and substance abuse to escape from the reality of pressure they are currently experiencing. The pressure of student debts has created psychological discomfort among students, thereby forcing them to engage in drug and substance abuse like excessive alcohol consumption and smoking of marijuana. Some students handle the pressure of excessive debts negatively. Instead of seeking solutions like finding part-time jobs to enable them to acquire extra income to help them pay their student loans, they engage in drug and substance abuse to avoid the pressure.

Alcohol, marijuana, prescription pills, ecstasy, and cocaine are the most commonly abused drugs and substances among college students, with alcohol being abused highest (Bittar, 2018). Excessive abuse of these drugs and substances further leads to addiction that has a negative effect on students’ mental health. Addiction to these drugs and substances leads to negative behavior like violent character, hallucinations, and skipping classes that subsequently affect the student’s academic performances. This leads to more frustrations and pressure that creates anxiety and stress among students, thereby negatively affecting their mental health. A further research question raised by the article is the adverse effects of addiction to drugs and substances among students in institutions of higher learning.

Undesired Undergraduate Programs

Student loans negatively affect students’ mental health institutions of higher learning by compelling them to pursue undergraduate programs that do not align with their passion but have a lucrative salary. Students in kindergarten, primary and high school have always been advised to select a career path they are passionate about and can comfortably work under for the rest of their adult lives until retirement (Prince, 2015). Students have always heeded the advice and have always admired what they like to be professionally from their passion even at early stages of life like junior primary. However, Prince (2015) notes that as students continue to grow, they become to critically analyze their career paths depending on various factors such as the competitiveness of the job market, family background, and most importantly, the career’s salary. More students select science-related professions like medicine, engineering, and biochemistry engineering that have better wages than art-related careers like music, painting, and teaching.

Moreover, the presence of huge student loans and interests that the students will be mandated to pay has driven them to select career paths that they are not passionate about or comfortable with as security to earn salaries that will enable them to pay off their student’s debts (Prince, 2015). This forces students to pursue undergraduate programs that they are not well conversed with, resulting in more mental pressure. The students have a hard time understanding their careers information, knowledge, and skills which they are not passionate about but only chose the career path due to lucrative salaries. This increased mental pressure has been a key reason why many students drop out of college when they cannot handle the pressure associated with the course they selected. The article, however, incorrectly states that students who are not passionate about a particular degree program find it difficult to comprehend the concepts of the program. Students who are also passionate about their programs may find it challenging to understand their degree program concepts and eventually drop out. A further research question that arises from the article is whether students in science-related fields experience more mental pressure than students in art-related fields.

How Racism on Campus Affects Students Mental health

Social Segregation

Racism is the discrimination or prejudice of a person, a group of people, or a social organization due to the association with a particular group based on ethnicity or race. Racism in institutions of higher learning dates back to traditional times where students were discriminated against based on their ethnic background or racial background. Racism on campus is a significant cause for increased mental health issues experienced by students with Black students and students of color like Hispanic students being the most affected. The first way that racism in higher education institutions negatively affects students’ mental health is by creating social groups based on racial lines. Black students and students of color have been known to be socially separated from White students as a result of racism. Despite efforts to end racism in higher education institutions, Black students and students of color still feel that they are not included in the majority of social groups in higher education institutions like fraternity groups.

White students do not usually associate themselves with Black students or students of color and engage in racial practices like excluding them from their social groups. For example, White students organize outdoor activities that are exclusively for White students. Other students are unwelcomed in such activities as they consider Black students and students of color inferior to them. This makes Black’s students and other students of color feel unwelcome and unwanted in such social gatherings. The resulting effect is the deterioration of mental health experience by Black students and students of color, thereby negatively affecting the mental health of Black students and students of color. A further research study that can be conducted based on the article is if social segregation of students in institutions of higher learning is if superiority complex improves the mental Health of White students.

Service Discrimination

Discrimination of services is also a negative outcome of racism in institutions of higher education that negatively affect the mental health of Black students and students of color. Institutions of higher education discriminately offer services to students based on their racial lines, with White students being offered better services than other students (Jochman et al., 2019). For example, White students residing on the institution campus are offered better accommodation services like better hostels that are more furnished. Contrary to that, Black students are offered less comfortable and furnished hostels which have not been renovated. Moreover, higher education educational instructors’ institutions favor White students over other students like Black students and students of color with more educational materials. White students can easily access educational materials like library books as compared to other students. This makes Black students and students of color experience difficulties accessing that negatively affects their mental health.

Favoritism created by racism in institutions of higher learning makes Black students and other students of color feel worthless and unwanted. This may create a sense of depression amongst Black students and students of color, thereby negatively affecting their mental health. Moreover, discriminatory access to educational material makes the teaching and learning process of Black students and other students of color cumbersome and stressful, thereby leading to poor academic performances (Jochman et al., 2019). The controversy in the article is that research shows that the majority of Black students and other students of color perform better than the majority of White students. A further research study that arises from the article is if better campus accommodation results in improved academic performances in institutions of higher learning.

Discriminate Punishment

Discriminate punishment is an additional negative outcome of racism in higher education institutions that negatively affects Black and students of color mental health. Punishment administered to Black students and other students of color is more severe than punishment rendered to White students (Priest et al., 2014). For example, educational instructors and lecturers are more lenient with White students when submitting their assignments past the set submission date and time. The educational instructor and lecturers are more willing to accept the late submissions from White students with no further repercussions and let them off with only a warning. Black students and other students of color experience harsh repercussions like marks deductions for submitting their assignments past the set submission date and time.

Moreover, White students caught breaking the rules and regulations of higher education institutions receive lenient punishments compared to Black students or other students of color. For example, suppose a White student is caught smoking marijuana against the campus rules. In that case, the institution’s disciplinary committee may only suspend the students for a few weeks or let them go off with a warning. However, black students and other students of color may receive more suspension periods or even be arrested. The discriminative punishment resulting from racism in higher learning institutions results in increased stress that negatively affects the mental health of Black students and students of color (Priest et al., 2014). Further research that arises from the article is if there exist unilateral rules and regulations and repercussions in institutions of higher learning.

Resulting Interpersonal Stress

Interpersonal stress resulting from racism in higher education institutions is another negative effect of racism that negatively affects Black students and students of color’s mental health. Franklin (2016) notes that black students and other students of color become aware of the racial discrimination practices on campus through experiences, social media, or the internet. This may negatively affect the mental health of these students if not adequately dealt with. For example, the recent brutal killing of George Floyd sparked a nationwide campaign of Black Lives Matter. This brought to light the problematic racism plight that Black people and other people of color undergo in the United States (Franklin, 2016). This negatively affected some students in institutions of learning as they learned that law enforcement agencies constantly target them due to their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The constant worry and anxiety create stress levels among students in higher education institutions, which negatively affects their mental health. The students are in constant fear that their right to live can easily be taken compared to their fellow White students by law enforcement agencies (Pittam, 2020). This causes them to live in fear, and the inferiority complex forces them to accept illegal actions to be taken against them, like illegal arrests with little or no protest. According to Franklin (2016), the fear causes interpersonal stress among Black students and other students of color that may lead to depression or, in extreme scenarios, suicide. A further research study from the article is the role White students play in creating interpersonal stress among Black students and students of color.

References

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Zhao, Y. (2020). Social learning and learning to be social: From online instruction to online education. American Journal of Education. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Student Mental Health in Higher Education." September 2, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/student-mental-health-in-higher-education/.