Hidden danger behind long hours of online learning

It can cause severe mental health or worst sudden death


THE pandemic has forced students to adopt online learning but it does come with hidden consequences — stress and worsening mental health.

The deaths of two students from Universiti Teknologi Mara had paved discussions on whether online learning triggered stress and psychological effects that need to be addressed, in the height of the pandemic.

According to the students’ family, both had complained about suffering severe headaches from studying. It was reported that both students did not suffer from any underlying illness.

According to Associate Professor Dr Muhamad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, senior consultant in psychiatry at University Malaya, in the case of sudden death, it is possibly due to stress which will lead to an increase in blood pressure and subsequent risk of brain haemorrhage.

He added that stress and the bleeding are usually present with a severe throbbing headache. In some cases, it can be accompanied by symptoms such as photophobia, vomiting and reduction in consciousness.

“The risk is even worse if one has other medical problems such as an aneurysm in the brain, malformation of the blood vessel or a heart problem,” Dr Muhamad Muhsin told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an email reply.

Another possible reason is chronic stress. The continuous and increasing stress may give negative long-term effects on the brain, that when blood pressure increases occurring, it again may predispose to haemorrhage (ruptured blood vessels).

“In such cases, body chemicals such as cortisol hormone may have been released.”

More often, it is not just a single factor leading to the worsening of burnout conditions.

The students’ high level of stress could be due to a variety of challenges including constantly adapting, deadline pressure, logistic issues, lack of social interaction, loneliness, family and relationship issues, he further added.

“This is especially true given that during open and distance learning, students are constantly adjusting to the learning environment without proper interaction. Difficulty to cope with the syllabus, poor connectivity, pressure may worsen the anxiety which may lead to fatalities,” Dr Muhamad Muhsin said.

However, it is also worth noting that stress impacted individuals differently. How fast the body reacts to severe pressure varied across individuals.

“This depending on personality, coping mechanism and protective factors in an individual,” he said.

Among the warning signs include when one has started to experience loss of interest, feeling edgy and tense up continuously to the point of losing sleep or feeling trapped and hopeless.

“Immediate help should be sought because sometimes even one-week duration of severe stress will affects one’s emotion significantly,” he said.

Students also are encouraged to access their condition frequently and identify if they have developed certain symptoms that could signal their health and mental condition are at stake.

“It can be detected early through symptoms such as feeling low mood, loss of interest or loss of pleasure on things we usually enjoy to do such as hobbies. It also translates into slowness in thinking or movement.”

“Additionally, sleep disturbances such as difficulties sleeping at night or too much sleep than usual, social withdrawal, poor or increased appetite, energy depletion, and sometimes, increased irritability can also be a manifestation of stress,” he told TMR.

Another serious symptom is when students start to feel hopeless that may lead to suicidal thoughts.

During the pandemic, online learning consumes a lot of headspaces, therefore maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balancing the study is instrumental.

“When learning, habitually take break intermittently when studying or learning. Don’t continuously do it without an adequate break in between,” Dr Muhamad Muhsin said.

Sharing a concern with someone you can trust might be beneficial. When necessary, speak up and seek assistance.

“Regular exercise will help us feel better by releasing happy hormones. This will help to alleviate our stress even more. A sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy and has negative consequences for mental health,” he added.