A recent study by the Globalization and Health online medical journal assessed the effects of online learning in college students living in Saudi Arabia. The study first examined the depression levels of Saudi students using the Zung Depression Scale. The second purpose of this study was to attempt to determine if there was any link between the level of depression among these students and how Covid-19 has caused changes in educational behavior.
This study included students from two universities within Saudi Arabia and was compiled using responses from 157 students.
The Study’s Findings
As a result of this study, it was discovered that 75% of university students polled display depressive symptoms of different levels. Half of those polled experienced depression that ranged from moderate to extreme.
Contributing factors for those levels of depression were determined to be at least partially caused by decreased productivity, a change in learning method (online learning), fear about upcoming examinations, and educational stress.
About half of the students in the survey said they were experiencing increased depression compared to before they started online learning due to the COVID pandemic.
The study also determined that female students were far more likely to experience extreme feelings of fear, stress, and depression compared to their male counterparts.
The Link between Stress and Depression
While stress is normal and can be good for short term, long term stress is not healthy, according to doctor David Prescott at the Husson University of Bangor. This is exactly what these university students are experiencing- long term stress over many months, and in some cases years. This is having a serious effect on their mental health, where the stress becomes linked to depression, feeding that serious mental health problem.
Stress can increase the potential for depression, according to Prescott. The Mental Health Institution did a study recently that showed that young people classified as Gen Z are overall experiencing depression levels that are 4-5% higher than they were before the pandemic.
The best guess among health experts is that higher depression incidence levels were caused by a combination of the disruption to normal daily activity, socially isolating, and stress due to work or education disruption.
Recommendations for Treating Depression and Stress
Mental health experts recommend that people who are experiencing chronic stress and depression make lifestyle changes. Here are some of the most impactful and beneficial changes they can make that may be able to decrease their stress levels and lower their risk of depression.
1. Increase Social Interaction
Stress can be something we allow ourselves to take on all by ourselves instead of getting help with it. Social interaction can help build a sense of camaraderie and support so that we do not feel so alone. People who have high levels of stress and depression can benefit from more time with their friends and particularly with people who build them up, encourage them, and provide emotional support. Self-isolation often contributes to stress, and social distancing caused by distance learning and online learning forces students to operate in a bubble where they are not getting the help and support that they need from their fellow students.
2. Decrease Workload
Many students feel overworked, with a large number of them working some kind of job alongside their educational programs. These days, many people are working from home and finding online work, even while pursuing a university degree. The extreme tiredness they feel from this workload can make them mentally imbalanced, stressed out, and depressed. It can help to decrease the workload and get a little time off. Some companies are offering their employees an extra day off work as they recover from long COVID symptoms issues. Steve with an excellent Airbnb Cleaning Service in NYC says “Some individuals are finding help by hiring professional cleaners to take care of their home so that they have fewer personal responsibilities”. Some are asking their employers for fewer hours or are cutting their coursework to take fewer classes. All of this can help to alleviate stress and reduce the risk of depression.
3. Eliminate Harmful Substances
While it may be difficult for some university students to change their schedule drastically enough that it reduces their stress, many of them can benefit by eliminating drugs and other harmful substances that they use regularly. The most common drugs that contribute to stress are alcohol and tobacco. When these are reduced or completely eliminated, stress levels also tend to be reduced. Many university students in Saudi Arabia will turn to drugs of some kind to deal with stress, but they may not realize that they are making the problem worse and exacerbating their stress by creating a reliance on these substances. Even though alcohol is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, there is still an underground drinking culture, and suppressed drinking becomes a habit which cannot even be discussed without legal repercussions is extremely dangerous. This causes even further mental health problems.
4. Spend Time Exercising
Stress can be caused by pent up energy, called manic energy, that makes people feel restless. Many university students do not get adequate exercise, and while they may feel mentally exhausted by the end of the day, they often don't feel physically tired. This means they may have trouble falling asleep, which contributes to stress as well. By getting even 15 to 30 minutes of exercise each day, students will feel less stressed because they will sleep better and use the reserves of energy that their body is holding for them. Exercise also releases powerful endorphins and hormones that improve mood and reduce stress. The heavy breathing that happens when exercising is excellent for boosting well-being and mental health, oxygenating the blood and bringing fresh air into the lungs.
Making these kinds of lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on university students who are feeling stressed. Their stress levels should decrease and their risk of depression should be minimized as well. Chronic stress and depression, however, should be assessed by a mental health expert for treatment.