Burnout has always been an issue for students. It’s often the butt of jokes. Senioritis jokes in particular spring to mind. The idea that seniors, even the traditionally “good” students, just … stop caring … can really only be seen as burnout.
Burnout is even more of an issue in colleges, where students are often subjected to demanding schedules, a mountain of homework, essays and tests, and loss of the support structures they’d spent the first 18-ish years of their lives with. It’s the perfect condition for burnout.
Colleges are already known to not be great at promoting mental health, something that UConn has been accused of in the last year and a half when two students committed suicide in a relatively short period of time. President Katsouleas even created a Mental Health and Wellness task force regarding these issues.
The burnout situation feels like it has only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, people at least were able to go and decompress by hanging out with friends, going to clubs or other organizations, going to parties, or just by having time to relax outside or in public spaces that aren’t just their dorm or wherever they live.
Since the pandemic has started that has ceased to be the case. Most of us have been generally confined to dorms, bedrooms, or other rooms where we can learn virtually for the entirety of the last year, taking all of our classes in front of a computer, doing all of our homework there and even doing all of our socializing.
I’m as much a fan of video games as any teenager is if not more, but there comes a point where even I am quite certain that getting all of my socializing from video games and Zoom calls is probably not the greatest form of social interaction for any duration of time, especially the full year that it’s now been.
In addition, we’re now dealing with more pressures than most of us ever have. There’s the fact that we’re college students, but then there’s the stress of the pandemic and worrying about health: our own and that of our loved ones. That’s on top of the fact we just got out of an exceptionally rough election cycle, which just heaped on the stress, and there’s an economic crisis, and a racial justice crisis, and a climate crisis, and, oh yeah, everyone still has classes.
The bigger issue, beyond the sheer quantity of stressors, is the fact that we have really no way of reducing these stressors. None of us can cure the pandemic, or racial injustice, or global warming. And with the pandemic, the ability to leave our sedentary sphere where we learn and play video games and get all of our socialization is so limited that even trying to reduce stress by doing more activities outside the house is not easily possible.
Perhaps the most outrageous part of this is the way the educational system is trying to act like the world right now is normal. It clearly isn’t; we are clearly not learning under normal circumstances, but the educational system is still expecting essays and quizzes and assignments the same way it would if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic.
Learning in the midst of about six different world-ending catastrophes at once is exhausting, and our educational systems need to adapt and understand that we are not living in a normal year. Even once this pandemic ends, be it in a month or a year or even longer than that, there are going to be mental health implications of the stress that everyone, not just students, has been feeling for a very long time.