Wrap Your Mind Around It: The Impacts of Social Isolation on Mental Health


Photo via Niklas Hamann under Creative Commons license from Unsplash.

Students struggle to stay positive and enaged in online schooling. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of stress, loss of motivation, and other mental health issues for students. “The other piece of that is the depression state of mind, not that most kids are gonna fall into actual clinical depression, but that mindset is if I’m sitting around doing nothing all day, I’m gonna be less motivated to do something tomorrow. It’s the saying that laziness breeds more laziness. It’s a lot harder to mentally engage and that’s just a psychological pattern we fall into,” (Mr. Schmidt).

Lisa Holiday, Staff Writer

We are isolated in our bubble while at the same time we are connected every moment of our lives whether those be good or bad things.”

— Mr. Schmidt

This past year, online school has been a struggle for many people across the globe. Even now with the reopening of schools nationwide, there are still students and parents who have chosen to stay at home during this life-altering pandemic. Being socially isolated can quickly turn into a bad thing, but not everyone has considered why that is and how people are truly affected.

Students enjoyed the pros of online learning such as having more time to sleep in and do their work. While all of these factors certainly shine a bright light over the idea of taking part in online school, there are some cons to consider.

Students struggle to stay focused at home all day, they miss their friends, and their social interaction has been diminished by a large scale. Approximately three in ten parents stated that their student was experiencing some form of emotional or mental struggles due to online schooling. While this statistic is relatively low, it is still proof that there are people out there who are struggling with being socially isolated. Students most often negatively impacted are those with a lower standard of living, domestic violence, verbally abusive family members, unsafe neighborhoods, or absent role models. Those who were already struggling with these things and used school as an escape from their complicated home life were negatively impacted because of the quarantine. With no one to talk to face to face, this has been an extremely isolating time. Students at home are missing out on a major part of their school experience: socializing.

“I was really worried about some of my kids that I work with because these are kids with high anxiety, they’ve had suicidal ideations or even suicidal actions. They’re kids that have struggled with relationship issues a lot with their parents and other kids,” stated student advocacy specialist Mr. Schmidt, on the topic of social isolation’s impact on students. “Some of my students already felt isolated and marginalized without good connections. They were gonna be disconnected from people that would give them positive social interactions. That was a big concern of mine at first.”

The insight that he gives explains what some students are having to overcome while isolating.  Not all students have an ideal living situation and school acts as an outlet, allowing them to experience the beneficial social interactions that they need to be successful. When that outlet is taken away, those who are managing a strenuous home life are likely to feel more mental pressure. 

Additionally, people facing any kind of social or economic disadvantage are struggling to manage during this pandemic. There are parents who still have to go to work, meaning they are unable to provide time for their families. They have young children who are participating in online school, and these parents have to find a way to guide their young children through school while also being present for their jobs. That being said, the conflict is that students are not the only ones struggling with this pandemic. Parents cannot be in two places at once.

“A student I’m thinking of had people in the house but they just didn’t get along. Some of that was her fault and some were other peoples’ fault, which was just contentious in general,” Mr. Schmidt said. “It was nothing necessarily abusive but I was definitely worried about her mental health.”

This anecdote allows us to see how the relationships between students and parents have become more strained due to quarantine. Relationships within families are strained when families that are struggling to get along are forced to be together the majority of the time. to be in close proximity to one another for a long period of time.

Much like students and their parents, teachers are being challenged at this time as well. From balancing their own lives, taking care of their own children, helping students, and doing their jobs, teachers are facing a new challenge.

Mr. Schmidt explains that teachers have been handling this pandemic quite effectively. They have been able to perform their jobs productively, but this does not necessarily mean that there have not been any struggles. There are teachers who are having to balance teaching their students face-to-face and online. On one side of the spectrum, there are the day-to-day lesson plans for students going to school and the enforcement of proper social distancing methods. Then there is the struggle of managing virtual students, whether that is creating lesson plans or giving extra help to those who need it for a certain course. Along with both of these responsibilities teachers must keep up with grading and balancing their own lives at home.

In reference to how faculty are handling things, Mr. Schmidt says, “It’s been incredibly stressful from teaching face to face and managing online students at the same time. It’s been very stressful for teachers and I’m worried about them,” he also says, “ I think most of them are handling it well and I think most of them are struggling with it at the same time.”

While the school is facing many obstacles, they are still doing everything they can to keep things safe and normal. In an effort to help, South Forsyth’s school website has some information to help students and parents in these difficult times.

Forsyth County Schools has created a resource page specifically built to support families with handling the mental and social difficulties that come with this COVID-19 pandemic. The following represent some of the more helpful resources for families:

In our generation, people are staying connected through various forms of social media. This has definitely been a positive thing for those in quarantine all over the globe. While it is true that social media has been an effective method of communication it has also caused some negativity. More students have been spending more time online while being stuck at home. This can lead to a lack of genuine connections among students.

“Social media can be a really good thing for people and obviously it can be very destructive for people. It gives us connections but it can easily take us into fake imaginary worlds where we’re not dealing with reality,” Mr. Schmidt says, going into the impact of social media on our generation at this time. “There’s a guy who studies generations, Tim Elmore, his stuff has fascinated me. One of the things he has said which I think is profoundly true is that your generation [Generation Z] is the most disconnected generation that we’ve ever seen while simultaneously you are the most connected generation we’ve ever seen.”

It is great to know that there are plenty of resources for parents to help, but people must take the time to measure just how negative the impact of social isolation is on growing students. There are people out there who care about us. No person is ever alone. Crisistextline.org is committed to offering support to those in crisis; they are especially committed to supporting people during the pandemic.  How To Handle Coronavirus lists some crisis hotlines and gives some useful tips that can be used by anyone in the community to combat feelings of isolation and stress. Those who are in need of mental help can text “HOME” to 741741 in order to connect with a crisis counselor who can help assist texters with coping tools and a kind ear. Crisistextline.org suggests that one way to combat the mental health effects of isolation is to plan video calls with friends for virtual hang out sessions. The connection with friends and family works to support a sense of well-being. 

Crisistextline.org lists many methods to combat isolation, including keeping track of responsibilities, making sure one is eating regular meals, and utilizing social media in a healthy way to connect with others. An additional way to avoid feeling lonely or going stir crazy is to go on a walk outside. It may sound simple but getting some fresh air can truly help anyone to clear their mind. It is easy to socially distance as long as people keep their masks with them in case they go by someone else and they stay in open areas. Enjoying the sunshine outdoors can be a good way to combat feelings of being drained due to social isolation and being indoors for the majority of the time. 

Mr. Schmidt explained a situation with a student whose parents are not able to stay home due to work. This student struggled because she was already isolated before the quarantine period. He explained that she would go long periods without talking to anyone because she lacked social connections, “We’re talking about being totally isolated for even longer stretches of time. So, I had to work with her on how to make connections.” Mr. Schmidt stated, on the topic of social struggles during the quarantine. He had to work with this student in order to help her learn how to connect with people and take care of her social health.

With a pandemic driving people indoors, and a lack of genuine communication between people, overall mental health has taken some damage. While this is true, there are always ways to overcome the obstacles of social isolation.