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Stanford research shows pitfalls of homework

A Stanford researcher found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and even alienation from society. More than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive, according to the study.

Denise Pope

Education scholar Denise Pope has found that too much homework has negative effects on student well-being and behavioral engagement. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

A Stanford researcher found that too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter.

“Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good,” wrote Denise Pope , a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education .

The researchers used survey data to examine perceptions about homework, student well-being and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities. Along with the survey data, Pope and her colleagues used open-ended answers to explore the students’ views on homework.

Median household income exceeded $90,000 in these communities, and 93 percent of the students went on to college, either two-year or four-year.

Students in these schools average about 3.1 hours of homework each night.

“The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students’ advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being,” Pope wrote.

Pope and her colleagues found that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness and even be counterproductive. They cite prior research indicating that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night, and that 90 minutes to two and a half hours is optimal for high school.

Their study found that too much homework is associated with:

• Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

• Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.

• Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

A balancing act

The results offer empirical evidence that many students struggle to find balance between homework, extracurricular activities and social time, the researchers said. Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.

Also, there was no relationship between the time spent on homework and how much the student enjoyed it. The research quoted students as saying they often do homework they see as “pointless” or “mindless” in order to keep their grades up.

“This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points,” Pope said.

She said the research calls into question the value of assigning large amounts of homework in high-performing schools. Homework should not be simply assigned as a routine practice, she said.

“Rather, any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development,” wrote Pope.

High-performing paradox

In places where students attend high-performing schools, too much homework can reduce their time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility, the researchers concluded. “Young people are spending more time alone,” they wrote, “which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities.”

Student perspectives

The researchers say that while their open-ended or “self-reporting” methodology to gauge student concerns about homework may have limitations – some might regard it as an opportunity for “typical adolescent complaining” – it was important to learn firsthand what the students believe.

The paper was co-authored by Mollie Galloway from Lewis and Clark College and Jerusha Conner from Villanova University.

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More than two hours of homework may be counterproductive, research suggests.

Education scholar Denise Pope has found that too much homework has negative impacts on student well-being and behavioral engagement (Shutterstock)

A Stanford education researcher found that too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter.   "Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," wrote Denise Pope , a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education .   The researchers used survey data to examine perceptions about homework, student well-being and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities. Along with the survey data, Pope and her colleagues used open-ended answers to explore the students' views on homework.   Median household income exceeded $90,000 in these communities, and 93 percent of the students went on to college, either two-year or four-year.   Students in these schools average about 3.1 hours of homework each night.   "The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students' advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being," Pope wrote.   Pope and her colleagues found that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness and even be counterproductive. They cite prior research indicating that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night, and that 90 minutes to two and a half hours is optimal for high school.   Their study found that too much homework is associated with:   • Greater stress : 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.   • Reductions in health : In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.   • Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits : Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were "not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills," according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.   A balancing act   The results offer empirical evidence that many students struggle to find balance between homework, extracurricular activities and social time, the researchers said. Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.   Also, there was no relationship between the time spent on homework and how much the student enjoyed it. The research quoted students as saying they often do homework they see as "pointless" or "mindless" in order to keep their grades up.   "This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points," said Pope, who is also a co-founder of Challenge Success , a nonprofit organization affiliated with the GSE that conducts research and works with schools and parents to improve students' educational experiences..   Pope said the research calls into question the value of assigning large amounts of homework in high-performing schools. Homework should not be simply assigned as a routine practice, she said.   "Rather, any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development," wrote Pope.   High-performing paradox   In places where students attend high-performing schools, too much homework can reduce their time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility, the researchers concluded. "Young people are spending more time alone," they wrote, "which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities."   Student perspectives   The researchers say that while their open-ended or "self-reporting" methodology to gauge student concerns about homework may have limitations – some might regard it as an opportunity for "typical adolescent complaining" – it was important to learn firsthand what the students believe.   The paper was co-authored by Mollie Galloway from Lewis and Clark College and Jerusha Conner from Villanova University.

Clifton B. Parker is a writer at the Stanford News Service .

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Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?

A conversation with a Wheelock researcher, a BU student, and a fourth-grade teacher

child doing homework

“Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives,” says Wheelock’s Janine Bempechat. “It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.” Photo by iStock/Glenn Cook Photography

Do your homework.

If only it were that simple.

Educators have debated the merits of homework since the late 19th century. In recent years, amid concerns of some parents and teachers that children are being stressed out by too much homework, things have only gotten more fraught.

“Homework is complicated,” says developmental psychologist Janine Bempechat, a Wheelock College of Education & Human Development clinical professor. The author of the essay “ The Case for (Quality) Homework—Why It Improves Learning and How Parents Can Help ” in the winter 2019 issue of Education Next , Bempechat has studied how the debate about homework is influencing teacher preparation, parent and student beliefs about learning, and school policies.

She worries especially about socioeconomically disadvantaged students from low-performing schools who, according to research by Bempechat and others, get little or no homework.

BU Today  sat down with Bempechat and Erin Bruce (Wheelock’17,’18), a new fourth-grade teacher at a suburban Boston school, and future teacher freshman Emma Ardizzone (Wheelock) to talk about what quality homework looks like, how it can help children learn, and how schools can equip teachers to design it, evaluate it, and facilitate parents’ role in it.

BU Today: Parents and educators who are against homework in elementary school say there is no research definitively linking it to academic performance for kids in the early grades. You’ve said that they’re missing the point.

Bempechat : I think teachers assign homework in elementary school as a way to help kids develop skills they’ll need when they’re older—to begin to instill a sense of responsibility and to learn planning and organizational skills. That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success. If we greatly reduce or eliminate homework in elementary school, we deprive kids and parents of opportunities to instill these important learning habits and skills.

We do know that beginning in late middle school, and continuing through high school, there is a strong and positive correlation between homework completion and academic success.

That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success.

You talk about the importance of quality homework. What is that?

Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives. It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.

Janine Bempechat

What are your concerns about homework and low-income children?

The argument that some people make—that homework “punishes the poor” because lower-income parents may not be as well-equipped as affluent parents to help their children with homework—is very troubling to me. There are no parents who don’t care about their children’s learning. Parents don’t actually have to help with homework completion in order for kids to do well. They can help in other ways—by helping children organize a study space, providing snacks, being there as a support, helping children work in groups with siblings or friends.

Isn’t the discussion about getting rid of homework happening mostly in affluent communities?

Yes, and the stories we hear of kids being stressed out from too much homework—four or five hours of homework a night—are real. That’s problematic for physical and mental health and overall well-being. But the research shows that higher-income students get a lot more homework than lower-income kids.

Teachers may not have as high expectations for lower-income children. Schools should bear responsibility for providing supports for kids to be able to get their homework done—after-school clubs, community support, peer group support. It does kids a disservice when our expectations are lower for them.

The conversation around homework is to some extent a social class and social justice issue. If we eliminate homework for all children because affluent children have too much, we’re really doing a disservice to low-income children. They need the challenge, and every student can rise to the challenge with enough supports in place.

What did you learn by studying how education schools are preparing future teachers to handle homework?

My colleague, Margarita Jimenez-Silva, at the University of California, Davis, School of Education, and I interviewed faculty members at education schools, as well as supervising teachers, to find out how students are being prepared. And it seemed that they weren’t. There didn’t seem to be any readings on the research, or conversations on what high-quality homework is and how to design it.

Erin, what kind of training did you get in handling homework?

Bruce : I had phenomenal professors at Wheelock, but homework just didn’t come up. I did lots of student teaching. I’ve been in classrooms where the teachers didn’t assign any homework, and I’ve been in rooms where they assigned hours of homework a night. But I never even considered homework as something that was my decision. I just thought it was something I’d pull out of a book and it’d be done.

I started giving homework on the first night of school this year. My first assignment was to go home and draw a picture of the room where you do your homework. I want to know if it’s at a table and if there are chairs around it and if mom’s cooking dinner while you’re doing homework.

The second night I asked them to talk to a grown-up about how are you going to be able to get your homework done during the week. The kids really enjoyed it. There’s a running joke that I’m teaching life skills.

Friday nights, I read all my kids’ responses to me on their homework from the week and it’s wonderful. They pour their hearts out. It’s like we’re having a conversation on my couch Friday night.

It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.

Bempechat : I can’t imagine that most new teachers would have the intuition Erin had in designing homework the way she did.

Ardizzone : Conversations with kids about homework, feeling you’re being listened to—that’s such a big part of wanting to do homework….I grew up in Westchester County. It was a pretty demanding school district. My junior year English teacher—I loved her—she would give us feedback, have meetings with all of us. She’d say, “If you have any questions, if you have anything you want to talk about, you can talk to me, here are my office hours.” It felt like she actually cared.

Bempechat : It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.

Ardizzone : But can’t it lead to parents being overbearing and too involved in their children’s lives as students?

Bempechat : There’s good help and there’s bad help. The bad help is what you’re describing—when parents hover inappropriately, when they micromanage, when they see their children confused and struggling and tell them what to do.

Good help is when parents recognize there’s a struggle going on and instead ask informative questions: “Where do you think you went wrong?” They give hints, or pointers, rather than saying, “You missed this,” or “You didn’t read that.”

Bruce : I hope something comes of this. I hope BU or Wheelock can think of some way to make this a more pressing issue. As a first-year teacher, it was not something I even thought about on the first day of school—until a kid raised his hand and said, “Do we have homework?” It would have been wonderful if I’d had a plan from day one.

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Sara Rimer

Sara Rimer A journalist for more than three decades, Sara Rimer worked at the Miami Herald , Washington Post and, for 26 years, the New York Times , where she was the New England bureau chief, and a national reporter covering education, aging, immigration, and other social justice issues. Her stories on the death penalty’s inequities were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. Her journalism honors include Columbia University’s Meyer Berger award for in-depth human interest reporting. She holds a BA degree in American Studies from the University of Michigan. Profile

She can be reached at [email protected] .

Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English. Statistics or facts must include a citation or a link to the citation.

There are 81 comments on Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?

Insightful! The values about homework in elementary schools are well aligned with my intuition as a parent.

when i finish my work i do my homework and i sometimes forget what to do because i did not get enough sleep

same omg it does not help me it is stressful and if I have it in more than one class I hate it.

Same I think my parent wants to help me but, she doesn’t care if I get bad grades so I just try my best and my grades are great.

I think that last question about Good help from parents is not know to all parents, we do as our parents did or how we best think it can be done, so maybe coaching parents or giving them resources on how to help with homework would be very beneficial for the parent on how to help and for the teacher to have consistency and improve homework results, and of course for the child. I do see how homework helps reaffirm the knowledge obtained in the classroom, I also have the ability to see progress and it is a time I share with my kids

The answer to the headline question is a no-brainer – a more pressing problem is why there is a difference in how students from different cultures succeed. Perfect example is the student population at BU – why is there a majority population of Asian students and only about 3% black students at BU? In fact at some universities there are law suits by Asians to stop discrimination and quotas against admitting Asian students because the real truth is that as a group they are demonstrating better qualifications for admittance, while at the same time there are quotas and reduced requirements for black students to boost their portion of the student population because as a group they do more poorly in meeting admissions standards – and it is not about the Benjamins. The real problem is that in our PC society no one has the gazuntas to explore this issue as it may reveal that all people are not created equal after all. Or is it just environmental cultural differences??????

I get you have a concern about the issue but that is not even what the point of this article is about. If you have an issue please take this to the site we have and only post your opinion about the actual topic

This is not at all what the article is talking about.

This literally has nothing to do with the article brought up. You should really take your opinions somewhere else before you speak about something that doesn’t make sense.

we have the same name

so they have the same name what of it?

lol you tell her

totally agree

What does that have to do with homework, that is not what the article talks about AT ALL.

Yes, I think homework plays an important role in the development of student life. Through homework, students have to face challenges on a daily basis and they try to solve them quickly.I am an intense online tutor at 24x7homeworkhelp and I give homework to my students at that level in which they handle it easily.

More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.

You know what’s funny? I got this assignment to write an argument for homework about homework and this article was really helpful and understandable, and I also agree with this article’s point of view.

I also got the same task as you! I was looking for some good resources and I found this! I really found this article useful and easy to understand, just like you! ^^

i think that homework is the best thing that a child can have on the school because it help them with their thinking and memory.

I am a child myself and i think homework is a terrific pass time because i can’t play video games during the week. It also helps me set goals.

Homework is not harmful ,but it will if there is too much

I feel like, from a minors point of view that we shouldn’t get homework. Not only is the homework stressful, but it takes us away from relaxing and being social. For example, me and my friends was supposed to hang at the mall last week but we had to postpone it since we all had some sort of work to do. Our minds shouldn’t be focused on finishing an assignment that in realty, doesn’t matter. I completely understand that we should have homework. I have to write a paper on the unimportance of homework so thanks.

homework isn’t that bad

Are you a student? if not then i don’t really think you know how much and how severe todays homework really is

i am a student and i do not enjoy homework because i practice my sport 4 out of the five days we have school for 4 hours and that’s not even counting the commute time or the fact i still have to shower and eat dinner when i get home. its draining!

i totally agree with you. these people are such boomers

why just why

they do make a really good point, i think that there should be a limit though. hours and hours of homework can be really stressful, and the extra work isn’t making a difference to our learning, but i do believe homework should be optional and extra credit. that would make it for students to not have the leaning stress of a assignment and if you have a low grade you you can catch up.

Studies show that homework improves student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college. Research published in the High School Journal indicates that students who spent between 31 and 90 minutes each day on homework “scored about 40 points higher on the SAT-Mathematics subtest than their peers, who reported spending no time on homework each day, on average.” On both standardized tests and grades, students in classes that were assigned homework outperformed 69% of students who didn’t have homework. A majority of studies on homework’s impact – 64% in one meta-study and 72% in another – showed that take home assignments were effective at improving academic achievement. Research by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) concluded that increased homework led to better GPAs and higher probability of college attendance for high school boys. In fact, boys who attended college did more than three hours of additional homework per week in high school.

So how are your measuring student achievement? That’s the real question. The argument that doing homework is simply a tool for teaching responsibility isn’t enough for me. We can teach responsibility in a number of ways. Also the poor argument that parents don’t need to help with homework, and that students can do it on their own, is wishful thinking at best. It completely ignores neurodiverse students. Students in poverty aren’t magically going to find a space to do homework, a friend’s or siblings to help them do it, and snacks to eat. I feel like the author of this piece has never set foot in a classroom of students.

THIS. This article is pathetic coming from a university. So intellectually dishonest, refusing to address the havoc of capitalism and poverty plays on academic success in life. How can they in one sentence use poor kids in an argument and never once address that poor children have access to damn near 0 of the resources affluent kids have? Draw me a picture and let’s talk about feelings lmao what a joke is that gonna put food in their belly so they can have the calories to burn in order to use their brain to study? What about quiet their 7 other siblings that they share a single bedroom with for hours? Is it gonna force the single mom to magically be at home and at work at the same time to cook food while you study and be there to throw an encouraging word?

Also the “parents don’t need to be a parent and be able to guide their kid at all academically they just need to exist in the next room” is wild. Its one thing if a parent straight up is not equipped but to say kids can just figured it out is…. wow coming from an educator What’s next the teacher doesn’t need to teach cause the kid can just follow the packet and figure it out?

Well then get a tutor right? Oh wait you are poor only affluent kids can afford a tutor for their hours of homework a day were they on average have none of the worries a poor child does. Does this address that poor children are more likely to also suffer abuse and mental illness? Like mentioned what about kids that can’t learn or comprehend the forced standardized way? Just let em fail? These children regularly are not in “special education”(some of those are a joke in their own and full of neglect and abuse) programs cause most aren’t even acknowledged as having disabilities or disorders.

But yes all and all those pesky poor kids just aren’t being worked hard enough lol pretty sure poor children’s existence just in childhood is more work, stress, and responsibility alone than an affluent child’s entire life cycle. Love they never once talked about the quality of education in the classroom being so bad between the poor and affluent it can qualify as segregation, just basically blamed poor people for being lazy, good job capitalism for failing us once again!

why the hell?

you should feel bad for saying this, this article can be helpful for people who has to write a essay about it

This is more of a political rant than it is about homework

I know a teacher who has told his students their homework is to find something they are interested in, pursue it and then come share what they learn. The student responses are quite compelling. One girl taught herself German so she could talk to her grandfather. One boy did a research project on Nelson Mandela because the teacher had mentioned him in class. Another boy, a both on the autism spectrum, fixed his family’s computer. The list goes on. This is fourth grade. I think students are highly motivated to learn, when we step aside and encourage them.

The whole point of homework is to give the students a chance to use the material that they have been presented with in class. If they never have the opportunity to use that information, and discover that it is actually useful, it will be in one ear and out the other. As a science teacher, it is critical that the students are challenged to use the material they have been presented with, which gives them the opportunity to actually think about it rather than regurgitate “facts”. Well designed homework forces the student to think conceptually, as opposed to regurgitation, which is never a pretty sight

Wonderful discussion. and yes, homework helps in learning and building skills in students.

not true it just causes kids to stress

Homework can be both beneficial and unuseful, if you will. There are students who are gifted in all subjects in school and ones with disabilities. Why should the students who are gifted get the lucky break, whereas the people who have disabilities suffer? The people who were born with this “gift” go through school with ease whereas people with disabilities struggle with the work given to them. I speak from experience because I am one of those students: the ones with disabilities. Homework doesn’t benefit “us”, it only tears us down and put us in an abyss of confusion and stress and hopelessness because we can’t learn as fast as others. Or we can’t handle the amount of work given whereas the gifted students go through it with ease. It just brings us down and makes us feel lost; because no mater what, it feels like we are destined to fail. It feels like we weren’t “cut out” for success.

homework does help

here is the thing though, if a child is shoved in the face with a whole ton of homework that isn’t really even considered homework it is assignments, it’s not helpful. the teacher should make homework more of a fun learning experience rather than something that is dreaded

This article was wonderful, I am going to ask my teachers about extra, or at all giving homework.

I agree. Especially when you have homework before an exam. Which is distasteful as you’ll need that time to study. It doesn’t make any sense, nor does us doing homework really matters as It’s just facts thrown at us.

Homework is too severe and is just too much for students, schools need to decrease the amount of homework. When teachers assign homework they forget that the students have other classes that give them the same amount of homework each day. Students need to work on social skills and life skills.

I disagree.

Beyond achievement, proponents of homework argue that it can have many other beneficial effects. They claim it can help students develop good study habits so they are ready to grow as their cognitive capacities mature. It can help students recognize that learning can occur at home as well as at school. Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits. And it can give parents an opportunity to see what’s going on at school and let them express positive attitudes toward achievement.

Homework is helpful because homework helps us by teaching us how to learn a specific topic.

As a student myself, I can say that I have almost never gotten the full 9 hours of recommended sleep time, because of homework. (Now I’m writing an essay on it in the middle of the night D=)

I am a 10 year old kid doing a report about “Is homework good or bad” for homework before i was going to do homework is bad but the sources from this site changed my mind!

Homeowkr is god for stusenrs

I agree with hunter because homework can be so stressful especially with this whole covid thing no one has time for homework and every one just wants to get back to there normal lives it is especially stressful when you go on a 2 week vaca 3 weeks into the new school year and and then less then a week after you come back from the vaca you are out for over a month because of covid and you have no way to get the assignment done and turned in

As great as homework is said to be in the is article, I feel like the viewpoint of the students was left out. Every where I go on the internet researching about this topic it almost always has interviews from teachers, professors, and the like. However isn’t that a little biased? Of course teachers are going to be for homework, they’re not the ones that have to stay up past midnight completing the homework from not just one class, but all of them. I just feel like this site is one-sided and you should include what the students of today think of spending four hours every night completing 6-8 classes worth of work.

Are we talking about homework or practice? Those are two very different things and can result in different outcomes.

Homework is a graded assignment. I do not know of research showing the benefits of graded assignments going home.

Practice; however, can be extremely beneficial, especially if there is some sort of feedback (not a grade but feedback). That feedback can come from the teacher, another student or even an automated grading program.

As a former band director, I assigned daily practice. I never once thought it would be appropriate for me to require the students to turn in a recording of their practice for me to grade. Instead, I had in-class assignments/assessments that were graded and directly related to the practice assigned.

I would really like to read articles on “homework” that truly distinguish between the two.

oof i feel bad good luck!

thank you guys for the artical because I have to finish an assingment. yes i did cite it but just thanks

thx for the article guys.

Homework is good

I think homework is helpful AND harmful. Sometimes u can’t get sleep bc of homework but it helps u practice for school too so idk.

I agree with this Article. And does anyone know when this was published. I would like to know.

It was published FEb 19, 2019.

Studies have shown that homework improved student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college.

i think homework can help kids but at the same time not help kids

This article is so out of touch with majority of homes it would be laughable if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

There is no value to homework all it does is add stress to already stressed homes. Parents or adults magically having the time or energy to shepherd kids through homework is dome sort of 1950’s fantasy.

What lala land do these teachers live in?

Homework gives noting to the kid

Homework is Bad

homework is bad.

why do kids even have homework?

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Study tracks shifts in student mental health during college

by Dartmouth College

college kids

A four-year study by Dartmouth researchers captures the most in-depth data yet on how college students' self-esteem and mental health fluctuates during their four years in academia, identifying key populations and stressors that the researchers say administrators could target to improve student well-being.

The study also provides among the first real-time accounts of how the coronavirus pandemic affected students' behavior and mental health. The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 resulted in long-lasting behavioral changes that persisted as a "new normal" even as the pandemic diminished, including feeling more stressed, less socially engaged, and sleeping more.

The researchers tracked more than 200 Dartmouth undergraduates in the classes of 2021 and 2022 for all four years of college. Students volunteered to let a specially developed app called StudentLife tap into the sensors that are built into smartphones. The app cataloged their daily physical and social activity , how long they slept, their location and travel, the time they spent on their phone, and how often they listened to music or videos. Students also filled out weekly behavioral surveys, and selected students gave post-study interviews.

The study—which is the longest mobile-sensing study ever conducted—is published in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies .

The researchers will present it at the Association of Computing Machinery's UbiComp/ISWC 2024 conference in Melbourne, Australia, in October. The team made their anonymized data set publicly available —including self-reports, surveys, and phone-sensing and brain-imaging data—to help advance research into the mental health of students during their college years.

Andrew Campbell, the paper's senior author and Dartmouth's Albert Bradley 1915 Third Century Professor of Computer Science said that the study's extensive data reinforces the importance of college and university administrators across the country being more attuned to how and when students' mental well-being changes during the school year.

"For the first time, we've produced granular data about the ebb and flow of student mental health. It's incredibly dynamic—there's nothing that's a steady state through the term, let alone through the year," he said. "These sorts of tools will have a tremendous impact on projecting forward and developing much more data-driven ways to intervene and respond exactly when students need it most."

First-year and female students are especially at risk for high anxiety and low self-esteem , the study finds. Among first-year students, self-esteem dropped to its lowest point in the first weeks of their transition from high school to college but rose steadily every semester until it was about 10% higher by graduation.

"We can see that students came out of high school with a certain level of self-esteem that dropped off to the lowest point of the four years. Some said they started to experience 'imposter syndrome' from being around other high-performing students," Campbell said. "As the years progress, though, we can draw a straight line from low to high as their self-esteem improves. I think we would see a similar trend class over class. To me, that's a very positive thing."

Female students—who made up 60% of study participants—experienced, on average, 5% greater stress levels and 10% lower self-esteem than male students. More significantly, the data show that female students tended to be less active, with male students walking 37% more often.

Sophomores were 40% more socially active compared to their first year, the researchers report. However, these students also reported feeling 13% more stressed than during their first year as their workload increased, they felt pressure to socialize, or as first-year social groups dispersed.

One student in a sorority recalled that having pre-arranged activities "kind of adds stress as I feel like I should be having fun because everyone tells me that it is fun." Another student noted that after the first year," students have more access to the whole campus, and that is when you start feeling excluded from things."

In a novel finding, the researchers identify an "anticipatory stress spike" of 17% experienced in the last two weeks of summer break. While still lower than mid-academic year stress, the spike was consistent across different summers.

In post-study interviews, some students pointed to returning to campus early for team sports. Others specified reconnecting with family and high school friends during their first summer home, saying they felt "a sense of leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of these long-standing friendships" as the break ended, the researchers report.

"This is a foundational study," said Subigya Nepal, first author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in Campbell's research group. "It has more real-time granular data than anything we or anyone else has provided before. We don't know yet how it will translate to campuses nationwide, but it can be a template for getting the conversation going."

The depth and accuracy of the study data suggest that mobile-sensing software could eventually give universities the ability to create proactive mental-health policies specific to certain student populations and times of year, Campbell said.

For example, a paper Campbell's research group published in 2022 based on StudentLife data showed that first-generation students experienced lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression than other students throughout their four years of college.

"We will be able to look at campus in much more nuanced ways than waiting for the results of an annual mental health study and then developing policy," Campbell said. "We know that Dartmouth is a small and very tight-knit campus community. But if we applied these same methods to a college with similar attributes, I believe we would find very similar trends."

Weathering the pandemic

When students returned home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers found that self-esteem actually increased during the pandemic by 5% overall and by another 6% afterward when life returned closer to what it was before. One student suggested in their interview that getting older came with more confidence. Others indicated that being home led to them spending more time with friends, talking on the phone, on social media, or streaming movies together.

The data show that phone usage—measured by the duration a phone was unlocked—indeed increased by nearly 33 minutes, or 19%, during the pandemic, while time spent in physical activity dropped by 52 minutes, or 27%. By 2022, phone usage fell from its pandemic peak to just above pre-pandemic levels, while engagement in physical activity had recovered to exceed the pre-pandemic period by three minutes.

Despite reporting higher self-esteem, students' feelings of stress increased by more than 10% during the pandemic. Since the pandemic, stress fell by less than 2% of its pandemic peak, indicating that the experience had a lasting impact on student well-being, the researchers report.

In early 2021, as students returned to campus, the reunion with friends and community was tempered by an overwhelming concern of the still-rampant coronavirus. "There was the first outbreak in winter 2021 and that was terrifying," one student recalls. Another student adds, "You could be put into isolation for a long time even if you did not have COVID. Everyone was afraid to contact-trace anyone else in case they got mad at each other."

Female students were especially concerned about the coronavirus, on average 13% more than male students. "Even though the girls might have been hanging out with each other more, they are more aware of the impact," one female student reported. "I actually had COVID and exposed some friends of mine. All the girls that I told tested as they were worried. They were continually checking up to make sure that they did not have it and take it home to their family."

Students still learning remotely had social levels 16% higher than students on campus, who engaged in activity an average of 10% less often than when they were learning from home. However, on-campus students used their phones 47% more often. When interviewed after the study, these students reported spending extended periods of time video-calling or streaming movies with friends and family.

Social activity and engagement had not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the study in June 2022, recovering by a little less than 3% after a nearly 10% drop during the pandemic. Similarly, the pandemic seems to have made students stick closer to home, with their distance traveled cut by nearly half during the pandemic and holding at that level in the time since.

Campbell and several of his fellow researchers are now developing a smartphone app known as MoodCapture that uses artificial intelligence paired with facial-image processing software to reliably detect the onset of depression before the user even knows something is wrong.

Provided by Dartmouth College

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Health Hazards of Homework

March 18, 2014 | Julie Greicius Pediatrics .

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A new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and colleagues found that students in high-performing schools who did excessive hours of homework “experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.”

Those health problems ranged from stress, headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems, to psycho-social effects like dropping activities, not seeing friends or family, and not pursuing hobbies they enjoy.

In the Stanford Report story about the research, Denise Pope , a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of the  study published in the  Journal of Experimental Education , says, “Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good.”

The study was based on survey data from a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in California communities in which median household income exceeded $90,000. Of the students surveyed, homework volume averaged about 3.1 hours each night.

“It is time to re-evaluate how the school environment is preparing our high school student for today’s workplace,” says Neville Golden, MD , chief of adolescent medicine at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and a professor at the School of Medicine. “This landmark study shows that excessive homework is counterproductive, leading to sleep deprivation, school stress and other health problems. Parents can best support their children in these demanding academic environments by advocating for them through direct communication with teachers and school administrators about homework load.”

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NIH Researchers Identify Brain Connections Associated With ADHD in Youth

Large study finds atypical interactions between the frontal cortex and information processing centers deep in the brain

March 13, 2024 • Media Advisory

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have discovered that symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are tied to atypical interactions between the brain’s frontal cortex and information processing centers deep in the brain. The researchers examined more than 10,000 functional brain images of youth with ADHD and published their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry . The study was led by researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Human Genome Research Institute.

Luke Norman, Ph.D., a staff scientist in the NIMH Office of the Clinical Director, and colleagues analyzed brain images supplied by more than 8,000 youth with and without ADHD sourced from six different functional imaging datasets. Using these images, the researchers examined associations between functional brain connectivity and ADHD symptoms.

They found that youth with ADHD had heightened connectivity between structures deep in the brain involved in learning, movement, reward, and emotion (caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens seeds) and structures in the frontal area of the brain involved in attention and control of unwanted behaviors (superior temporal gyri, insula, inferior parietal lobe, and inferior frontal gyri).

While neuroscience researchers have long suspected that ADHD symptoms result from atypical interactions between the frontal cortex and these deep information-processing brain structures, studies testing this model have returned mixed findings, possibly due to the small nature of the studies, with only 100 or so subjects. Researchers suggest that the smaller studies may not have been able to reliably detect the brain interactions leading to the complex behaviors seen in ADHD.

The findings from this study help further our understanding of the brain processes contributing to ADHD symptoms—information that can help inform clinically relevant research and advancements.

Luke Norman, Ph.D., staff scientist in the NIMH Office of the Clinical Director and lead author of the paper

Norman, L. J., Sudre, G., Price, J., & Shaw, P. (2024). Subcortico-cortical dysconnectivity in ADHD: A voxel-wise mega-analysis across multiple cohorts. American Journal of Psychiatry .  https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.20230026  

About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH  is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website .

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Barriers Associated with the Implementation of Homework in Youth Mental Health Treatment and Potential Mobile Health Solutions

  • Original Article
  • Published: 16 March 2020
  • Volume 45 , pages 272–286, ( 2021 )

Cite this article

  • Brian E. Bunnell   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4964-0688 1 , 2 ,
  • Lynne S. Nemeth 3 ,
  • Leslie A. Lenert 2 ,
  • Nikolaos Kazantzis 4 ,
  • Esther Deblinger 5 ,
  • Kristen A. Higgins 2 &
  • Kenneth J. Ruggiero 6  

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Homework, or between-session practice of skills learned during therapy, is integral to effective youth mental health TREATMENTS. However, homework is often under-utilized by providers and patients due to many barriers, which might be mitigated via m Health solutions.

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with nationally certified trainers in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT; n  = 21) and youth TF-CBT patients ages 8–17 ( n  = 15) and their caregivers ( n  = 12) to examine barriers to the successful implementation of homework in youth mental health treatment and potential m Health solutions to those barriers.

The results indicated that many providers struggle to consistently develop, assign, and assess homework exercises with their patients. Patients are often difficult to engage and either avoid or have difficulty remembering to practice exercises, especially given their busy/chaotic home lives. Trainers and families had positive views and useful suggestions for m Health solutions to these barriers in terms of functionality (e.g., reminders, tracking, pre-made homework exercises, rewards) and user interface (e.g., easy navigation, clear instructions, engaging activities).

Conclusions

This study adds to the literature on homework barriers and potential m Health solutions to those barriers, which is largely based on recommendations from experts in the field. The results aligned well with this literature, providing additional support for existing recommendations, particularly as they relate to treatment with youth and caregivers.

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Dr. Bunnell was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant Numbers F32 MH108250 and K23 MH118482).

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Brian E. Bunnell

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Brian E. Bunnell, Leslie A. Lenert & Kristen A. Higgins

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Bunnell, B.E., Nemeth, L.S., Lenert, L.A. et al. Barriers Associated with the Implementation of Homework in Youth Mental Health Treatment and Potential Mobile Health Solutions. Cogn Ther Res 45 , 272–286 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-020-10090-8

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School educational models and child mental health among K-12 students: a scoping review

  • Ting Yu 1 ,
  • Jian Xu 1 ,
  • Yining Jiang 1 ,
  • Hui Hua 1 ,
  • Yulai Zhou 1 &
  • Xiangrong Guo 1 , 2  

Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health volume  16 , Article number:  32 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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The promotion of mental health among children and adolescents is a public health imperative worldwide, and schools have been proposed as the primary and targeted settings for mental health promotion for students in grades K-12. This review sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of key factors involved in models of school education contributing to student mental health development, interrelationships among these factors and the cross-cultural differences across nations and societies.

This scoping review followed the framework of Arksey and O’Malley and holistically reviewed the current evidence on the potential impacts of school-related factors or school-based interventions on student mental health in recent 5 years based on the PubMed, Web of Science, Embase and PsycExtra databases.

Results/findings

After screening 558 full-texts, this review contained a total of 197 original articles on school education and student mental health. Based on the five key factors (including curriculum, homework and tests, physical activities, interpersonal relationships and after-school activities) identified in student mental development according to thematic analyses, a multi-component school educational model integrating academic, social and physical factors was proposed so as to conceptualize the five school-based dimensions for K-12 students to promote student mental health development.

Conclusions

The lessons learned from previous studies indicate that developing multi-component school strategies to promote student mental health remains a major challenge. This review may help establish appropriate school educational models and call for a greater emphasis on advancement of student mental health in the K-12 school context among different nations or societies.

Introduction

In recent years, mental health conditions among children and adolescents have received considerable attention as a public health concern. Globally about 10–20% of children and adolescents experience mental health problems [ 1 , 2 ], and mental health problems in early life may have the potential for long-term adverse consequences [ 3 , 4 ]. In 2019, the World Health Organization has pointed out that childhood and adolescence are critical periods for the acquisition of socio-emotional capabilities and for prevention of mental health problems [ 5 ]. A comprehensive multi-level solution to child mental health problems needs to be put forward for the sake of a healthier lifestyle and environment for future generations.

The school is a unique resource to help children improve their mental health. A few generations ago, schools’ priority was to teach the traditional subjects, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, children are now spending a large amount of time at school where they learn, play and socialize. For some students, schools have a positive influence on their mental health. While for others, schools can present as a considerable source of stress, worry, and unhappiness, and hinder academic achievement [ 2 ]. According to Greenberg et al., today’s schools need to teach beyond basic skills (such as reading, writing, and counting skills) and enhance students’ social-emotional competence, characters, health, and civic engagement [ 6 ]. Therefore, universal mental health promotion in school settings is recognized to be particularly effective in improving students’ emotional well-being [ 2 , 7 ].

Research evidence over the last two decades has shown that schools can make a difference to students’ mental health [ 8 ]. Previous related systematic reviews or meta-analyses focused on the effects of a particular school-based intervention on child mental health [ 9 , 10 ] and answered a specific question with available research, however, reviews covering different school-related factors or school-based interventions are still lacking. An appropriate model of school education requires the combination of different school-related factors (such as curriculum, homework, and physical activities) and therefore needs to focus on multiple primary outcomes. Thus, we consider that a scoping review may be more appropriate to help us synthesize the recent evidence than a systematic review or meta-analysis, as the wide coverage and the heterogeneous nature of related literature focusing on multiple primary outcomes are not amenable to a more precise systematic review or meta-analysis [ 11 ]. To the best of our knowledge, this review is among the first to provide a comprehensive overview of available evidence on the potential impacts of multiple school-related factors or school-based interventions on student mental health, and identify school-related risk/protective factors involved in the development of mental health problems among K-12 students, and therefore, to help develop a holistic model of K-12 education.

A scoping review was systematically conducted following the methodological framework of Arksey and O'Malley [ 12 ]: defining the research question; identifying relevant studies; study selection; data extraction; and summarizing and reporting results. The protocol for this review was specified in advance and submitted for registration in the PROSPERO database (Reference number, CRD42019123126).

Defining the research question (stage 1)

For this review, we sought to answer the following questions:

What is known from the existing literature on the potential impacts of school-related factors or school-based interventions on student mental health?

What are the interrelationships among these factors involved in the school educational process?

What are the cross-cultural differences in K-12 education process across nations and societies?

Identifying relevant studies (stage 2)

The search was conducted in PubMed, Web of Science and Embase electronic databases, and the dates of the published articles included in the search were limited to the last 5 years until 23 March 2021. The PsycExtra database was also searched to identify relevant evidence in the grey literature [ 13 ]. In recent 5 years, mental disorders among children and adolescents have increased at an alarming rate [ 14 , 15 ] and relevant policies calling for a greater role of schools in promoting student mental health have been issued in different countries [ 16 , 17 , 18 ], making educational settings at the forefront of the prevention initiative globally. Therefore, limiting research source published in the past 5 years was pre-defined since these publications reflected the newest discoveries, theories, processes, or practices. Search terms were selected based on the eligibility criteria and outcomes of interest were described as follows (Additional file 1 : Table S1). The search strategy was peer-reviewed by the librarian of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.

Study selection (stage 3)

T.Y. and Y.J. independently identified relevant articles by screening the titles, reviewing the abstracts and full-text articles. If any disagreement arises, the disagreement shall be resolved by discussion between the two reviewers and a third reviewer (J. X.).

Inclusion criteria were (1) according to the study designs: only randomized controlled trials (RCT)/quasi-RCT, longitudinal and cross-sectional studies; (2) according to the languages: articles only published in English or Chinese; (3) according to the ages of the subjects: preschoolers (3.5–5 years of age), children (6–11 years of age) and adolescents (12–18 years of age); and (4) according to the study topics: only articles examining the associations between factors involved in the school education and student mental health outcomes (psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, stress, self-injury, suicide; and/or psychological well-being, such as self-esteem, self-concept, self-efficacy, optimism and happiness) in educational settings. Exclusion criteria: (1) Conference abstracts, case report/series, and descriptive articles were excluded due to overall quality and reliability. (2) Studies investigating problems potentially on a causal pathway to mental health disorders but without close associations with school education models (such as problems probably caused by family backgrounds) were excluded. (3) Studies using schools as the recruitment places but without school-related topics were also excluded.

Data extraction (stage 4)

T.Y. and Y.J., and X.G., Y. Z., H.H. extracted data from the included studies using a pre-defined extraction sheet. Researchers extracted the following information from each eligible study: study background (name of the first author, publication year, and study location), sample characteristics (number of participants, ages of participants, and sex proportion), design [intervention (RCT or quasi-RCT), or observational (cross-sectional or longitudinal) study], and instruments used to assess exposures in school settings and mental health outcomes. For intervention studies (RCTs and quasi-RCTs), we also extracted weeks of intervention, descriptions of the program, duration and frequency. T.Y. reviewed all the data extraction sheets under the supervision of J. X.

Summarizing and reporting the results (stage 5)

Results were summarized and reported using a narrative synthesis approach. Studies were sorted according to (a) factors/exposures associated with child and adolescent mental health in educational settings, and (b) components of school-based interventions to facilitate student mental health development. Key findings from the studies were then compared, contrasted and synthesized to illuminate themes which appeared across multiple investigations.

Search results and characteristics of the included articles

The search yielded 25,338 citations, from which 558 were screened in full-text. Finally, a total of 197 original articles were included in this scoping review: 72 RCTs (including individually randomized and cluster-randomized trials), 27 quasi-RCTs, 29 longitudinal studies and 69 cross-sectional studies (Fig.  1 for details). Based on thematic analyses, the included studies were analyzed and thematically grouped into five overarching categories based on the common themes in the types of intervention programs or exposures in the school context: curriculum, homework and tests, interpersonal relationships, physical activity and after-school activities. Table 1 provided a numerical summary of the characteristics of the included articles. The 197 articles included data from 46 countries in total, covering 24 European countries, 13 Asian countries, 4 American countries, 3 African countries, and 2 Oceanian countries. Most intervention studies were conducted in the United States of America (n = 16), followed by Australia (n = 11) and the United Kingdom (n = 11). Most observational studies were conducted in the United States of America (n = 19), followed by China (n = 15) and Canada (n = 8). Figure  2 illustrated the geographical distribution of the included studies. Further detailed descriptions of the intervention studies or observational studies were provided in Additional file 1 : Tables S2 and S3, respectively.

figure 1

Study selection process

figure 2

Geographical distribution of included studies: A intervention studies; B observational studies

The association between school curriculum and student mental health was investigated in four cross-sectional studies. Mathematics performance was found to be adversely associated with levels of anxiety or negative emotional responses among primary school students [ 19 ]. However, in middle schools, difficulties and stressors students may encounter in learning academic lessons (such as difficulties/stressors in taking notes and understanding teachers’ instructions) could contribute to lowered self-esteem [ 20 ] and increased suicidal ideation or attempts [ 21 ]. Innovative integration of different courses instead of the traditional approach of teaching biology, chemistry, and physics separately, could improve students’ self-concept [ 22 ].

To promote student mental health, 64 intervention studies were involved in innovative curricula integrating different types of competencies, including social emotional learning (SEL), mindfulness-intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based curriculum, life skills training, stress management curriculum, and so on (Fig.  3 ). Curricula focusing on SEL put an emphasis on the development of child social-emotional skills such as managing emotions, coping skills and empathy [ 23 ], and showed positive effects on depression, anxiety, stress, negative affect and emotional problems [ 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 ], especially in children with psychological symptoms [ 24 ] and girls [ 23 , 27 ], as well as increased prosocial behaviors [ 38 ], self-esteem [ 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 ] and positive affect [ 43 ]. However, four programs reported non-significant effects of SEL on student mental health outcomes [ 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 ], while two programs demonstrated increased levels of anxiety [ 48 ] and a reduction of subjective well-being [ 49 ] at post-intervention. Mindfulness-based curriculum showed its potential to endorse positive outcomes for youth including reduced emotional problems and negative affect [ 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 , 56 ] as well as increased well-being and positive emotions [ 51 , 52 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 ], especially among high-risk children with emotional problems or perceived stress before interventions [ 50 , 53 ]. However, non-significant effects were also reported in an Australian study in secondary schools [ 61 ]. Curricula based on CBT targeted children at risk or with early symptoms of mental illness [ 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 66 , 67 ], or all students regardless of symptom levels as a universal program [ 68 , 69 , 70 ], and could impose a positive effect on self-esteem, well-being, distress, stress and suicidality. However, a universal CBT trial in Swedish primary schools found no evidence of long-term effects of such program on anxiety prevention [ 71 ]. Five intervention studies based on life-skill-training were found to be effective in promoting self-efficacy [ 72 , 73 ], self-esteem [ 73 , 74 ], and reducing depression/anxiety-like symptoms [ 72 , 75 , 76 ]. Courses covering stress management skills have also been reported to improve life satisfaction, increase happiness and decrease anxiety levels among students in developing countries [ 77 , 78 , 79 ]. In practice, innovative teaching forms such as the game play [ 67 , 80 , 81 ] and outdoor learning [ 82 , 83 ] embedded in the traditional classes could help address the mental health and social participation concerns for children and youth. Limited evidence supported the mental health benefits of resilience-based curricula [ 84 , 85 , 86 ], which deserve further studies.

figure 3

Harvest plots for overview of curriculum-based intervention studies, grouped by different types of curriculum-based interventions. The height of the bars corresponded to the sample sizes on a logarithmic scale of each study. Red bars represented positive effects of interventions on student mental health outcomes, grey bars represented non-significant effects on student mental health outcomes, and black bars represented negative effects on student mental health outcomes

Large cluster-randomized trials utilizing multi-component whole-school interventions which involves various aspects of school life (curriculum, interpersonal relationships, activities), such as the Strengthening Evidence base on scHool-based intErventions for pRomoting adolescent health (SEHER) program in India and the Together at School program in Finland, have been proved to be beneficial for prevention from depression [ 87 , 88 , 89 ] and psychological problems [ 90 ].

Homework and tests

The association between homework and psychological ill-being outcomes was investigated in four cross-sectional studies and one longitudinal study. Incomplete homework and longer homework durations were associated with a higher risk of anxiety symptoms [ 91 , 92 ], negative emotions [ 93 , 94 , 95 ] and even psychological distress in adulthood [ 96 ].

Innumerable exams during the educational process starting from primary schools may lead to increased anxiety and depression levels [ 97 , 98 ], particularly among senior students preparing for college entrance examinations [ 99 ]. Students with higher test scores had a lower probability to have emotional and behavioral problems [ 100 ], in comparison with students who failed examinations [ 93 , 101 ]. Depression and test anxiety were found to be highly correlated [ 102 ]. In terms of psychological well-being outcomes, findings were consistent in the negative associations between student test anxiety and self-esteem/life-satisfaction levels [ 103 , 104 ]. Regarding intervention studies, adolescent students at a high risk of test anxiety benefited from CBT or attention training by strengthening sense of control and meta-cognitive beliefs [ 105 , 106 ]. However, more knowledge about the criteria for an upcoming test was not related to anxiety levels during lessons [ 107 ].

Interpersonal relationships

School-based interpersonal (student–student or student–teacher) relationships are also important to student mental health. Low support from schoolmates/teachers and negative interpersonal events were reported to be associated with psychosomatic health complaints [ 108 , 109 , 110 , 111 , 112 , 113 ]. In contrast, positive interpersonal relationships in schools could promote emotional well-being [ 114 , 115 , 116 , 117 ] and reduce depressive symptoms in students [ 118 , 119 , 120 ].

Student–teacher relationships

Negative teaching behaviors were associated with negative affect [ 121 , 122 ] and low self-efficacy [ 123 ] among primary and high school students. Student–teacher conflicts at the beginning of the school year were associated with higher anxiety levels in students at the end of the year, and high-achieving girls were most susceptible to such negative associations [ 124 ]. Higher levels of perceived teachers’ support were correlated with decreased risks of depression [ 125 ], mental health problems [ 126 ] as well as increased positive affect [ 127 , 128 ] and improved mental well-being [ 129 , 130 ]. Better student–teacher relationships were positively associated with self-esteem/efficacy [ 131 ], while negatively associated with the risks of adolescents’ externalizing behaviors [ 132 ] among secondary school students. Longitudinal studies demonstrated that high intimacy levels between students and teachers were correlated with reduced emotional symptoms [ 133 ] and increased life-satisfaction among students [ 134 ]. In addition, more respect to teachers in 10th grade students was associated with higher self-efficacy and lower stress levels 1 year later [ 135 ].

A growing body of research focused on the issue of how to increase positive interactions between teachers and students in teaching practices. Actually, interventions on improving teaching skills to promote a positive classroom atmosphere could potentially benefit children, especially those experiencing a moderate to high level of risks of mental health problems [ 136 , 137 ].

Student–student relationships

Findings were consistent in considering the positive peer relationship as a protective factor against internalizing and externalizing behaviors [ 138 , 139 , 140 , 141 , 142 ], depression [ 143 , 144 , 145 ], anxiety [ 146 ], self-harm [ 147 ] and suicide [ 148 ], and as a favorable factor for positive affect [ 149 , 150 ], increased happiness [ 151 ], self-efficacy [ 152 ], optimism [ 153 , 154 ] and mental well-being [ 155 ]. In contrast, peer-hassles, friendlessness, negative peer-beliefs, peer-conflicts/isolation and peer-rejection, have been identified in the development of psychological distress among students [ 141 , 143 , 149 , 156 , 157 , 158 , 159 , 160 , 161 , 162 , 163 , 164 , 165 ].

As schools and classrooms are common settings to build peer relationships, student social skills to enhance the student–student relationship can be incorporated into school education. Training of interpersonal skills among secondary school students with depressive symptoms appeared to be effective in decreasing adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptoms [ 166 ]. In addition, recent studies also identified the effectiveness of small-group learning activities in the cognitive development and mental health promotion among students [ 87 , 88 , 89 , 90 , 167 ].

Physical activity in school

Moderate-to-high-intensity physical activity during school days has been confirmed to benefit children and adolescents in relation to various psychosocial outcomes, such as reduced symptoms of depression [ 168 ], emotional problems [ 169 ] and mental distress [ 170 ] as well as improved self-efficacy [ 171 ] and mental well-being [ 172 , 173 ]. In addition, participation in physical education (PE) at least twice a week was significantly associated with a lower likelihood of suicidal ideation and stress [ 174 ].

A variety of school‐based physical activity interventions or lessons have been proposed in previous studies to promote physical activity levels and psychosocial fitness in students, including integrating physical activities into classroom settings [ 175 , 176 , 177 , 178 ], assigning physical activity homework [ 178 ], physically-active academic lessons [ 179 , 180 ] as well as an obligation of ensuring the participation of various kinds of sports (such as aerobic exercises, resistance exercises, yoga) in PE lessons [ 181 , 182 , 183 , 184 , 185 , 186 , 187 , 188 , 189 , 190 , 191 , 192 ]. Although the effectiveness of these proposed physical activity interventions was not consistent, physical education is suggested to implement sustainably as other academic courses with special attention.

After-school activities

Several cross-sectional studies have synthesized evidence on the positive effects of leisure-time physical activity against student depression, anxiety, stress, and psychological distress [ 193 , 194 , 195 , 196 , 197 , 198 , 199 ]. Extracurricular sport participation (such as sports, dance, and martial arts) could foster perceived self-efficacy, self-esteem, improve mental health status [ 200 , 201 , 202 , 203 ], and reduce emotional problems [ 204 ] and depressive symptoms [ 205 ]. Participation in team sports was more strongly related to beneficial mental health outcomes than individual sports, especially in high school girls [ 199 ]. Other forms of organized activities, such as youth organizations and arts, have also been demonstrated to benefit self-esteem [ 201 ], self-worth [ 206 ], satisfaction with life and optimism [ 207 , 208 ].

However, different types of after-school activities may result in different impacts on student mental health. Previous studies demonstrated that students participating in after-school programs of yoga or sports had better well-being and self-efficacy [ 209 ], and decreased levels of anxiety [ 210 ] and negative mood [ 211 ], while another study showed that the after-school yoga program induced no significant changes in levels of depression, anxiety and stress among students [ 212 ]. Inconsistent findings on the effects of participation in art activities on student mental health were also reported [ 213 , 214 ]. Another study also highlighted the benefits of after-school clubs, demonstrating an improvement in socio-emotional competencies and emotional status, and sustained effects at 12-month follow-up [ 215 ].

Based on the potential importance of the five school-based factors identified in student mental development, a multi-component school educational model is therefore proposed to conceptualize the five school-based dimensions (including curriculum, homework and tests, interpersonal relationships, physical activity, and after-school activities) for K-12 students to promote their mental health (Fig.  4 ). The interrelationships among the five dimensions and cross-cultural comparisons are further discussed as follows in a holistic way.

figure 4

The multi-component school educational model is proposed to conceptualize the five school-based dimensions (including curriculum set, homework and tests, physical activity, interpersonal relationships and after-school activities) for K-12 students to promote student mental health

Comprehensive understanding of K-12 school educational models: the reciprocal relationships among factors

Students’ experiences in the school educational context are dynamic processes which englobe a variety of educational elements (such as curriculum, homework, tests) and social elements (such as interpersonal relationships and social activities in schools). Based on the educational model proposed in this review, these educational/social elements are closely related and interact with each other, which play an important role in students’ psychosocial development.

Being aware of this, initiatives aimed to improve student social and emotional competencies may certainly impact student psychological well-being, at least in part, in a way of developing supportive relationships between teachers-students or between peers [ 35 , 89 ]. On the other hand, the enhancement of interpersonal relationships at school could serve as a potent source of motivation for student academic progress so as to further promote psychological well-being [ 131 , 132 ]. In addition, school education reforms intended to provide pupils with more varied teaching and learning practices to promote supportive interpersonal relationships between students and teachers or between peers, such as education programs outside the classroom [ 82 ], cooperative learning [ 167 ] and adaptive classroom management [ 136 , 137 ], have also been advocated among nations recently.

Our findings also suggested that participation in non-academic activities was an important component of positive youth development. Actually, these school-based activities in different contexts also require teacher–student interactions or peer interactions. Social aspects of physical activities have been proposed to strengthen relationship-building and other interpersonal skills that may additionally protect students against the development of mental health problems [ 130 , 203 ]. Among various types of sports, team sports seemed to be associated with more beneficial outcomes compared with individual sports due to the social aspect of being part of a team [ 194 , 199 ]. Participation in music, student council, and other clubs/organizations may also provide students with frequent connections with peers, and opportunities to build relationships with others that share similar interests [ 201 ]. Further, frequent and supportive interactions with teachers and peers in sports and clubs may promote student positive views of the self and encourage their health-promoting behaviors (such as physical activities).

However, due to increasing academic pressure, children have to spend a large amount of time on academic studies, and inevitably displace time on sleep, leisure, exercises/sports, and extracurricular activities [ 92 ]. Although the right amount of homework may improve school achievements [ 216 ] and higher test scores may help prevent students from mental distress [ 100 , 101 , 102 ], over-emphasis on academic achivements may lead to elevated stress levels and poor health outcomes ultimately. The anxiety specifically related to academic achievement and test-taking at school was frequently reported among students who felt pressured and overwhelmed by the continuous evaluation of their academic performance [ 98 , 103 , 104 ]. In such high-pressure academic environments, strategies to alleviate the levels of stress among students should be incorporated into intervention efforts, such as stress management skill training [ 77 , 78 , 79 ], CBT-based curriculum [ 62 , 64 , 66 , 105 ], and attention training [ 106 ]. Therefore, school supportive policies that allow students continued access to various non-academic activities as well as improve their social aspect of participation may be one fruitful avenue to promote student well-being.

Cross-cultural differences in K-12 educational models among different nations and societies

As we reviewed above, heavy academic burden exists as an important school-related stressor for students [ 91 , 92 , 94 , 95 , 96 ], probably due to excessive examinations [ 97 , 98 , 99 ] and unsatisfactory academic performance [ 100 , 101 , 102 ]. Actually, extrinsic cultural factors significantly impact upon student academic burden. In most countries, college admission policies affect the entire ecological system of K-12 education, because success in life or careers is determined by examination performance to a large extent [ 217 ]. The impacts of heavy academic burden may be greatest in Asian cultures where more after-school time of students is spent on homework, exam preparations, and extracurricular classes for academic improvement (such as in Korea, Japan, China and Singapore) [ 92 , 95 , 218 ]. As a consequence, the high proportion of adolescents fall in the “academic burnout group” in Asian countries [ 219 ], which highlights the need to take further measures to combat the issue. As an issue of concern, the “double reduction” policy has been implemented nationwide in China since 2021, being aimed to relieve students of excessive study burden, and the effects of the policy are anticipated but remain unknown up to now.

Other factors such as school curriculum and extra-curricular commitments, vary among societies and nations and may explain the cross-cultural differences in educational models [ 220 ]. For example, in Finland, the primary science subject is as important as mathematics or reading, while Chinese schools often lack time to arrange a sufficient number of science courses [ 221 ], which could be explained by different educational traditions of the two countries. In addition, approximately 75% of high schools in Korea failed to implement national curriculum guidelines for physical education (150 min/week), instead replacing that time with self-guided study to prepare for university admission exams [ 174 ]. In terms of the arrangement of the after-school time, Asian students spend most of their after-school time on private tutoring or doing homework [ 222 ], 2–3 times longer than the time spent by adolescents in most western countries/cities [ 92 ]. However, according to our analyses and summaries, most intervention studies targeting the improvement of mental health of students by school education were conducted in western countries (Fig.  2 ), suggesting that special attention needs to be paid to the students’ mental health issue on campus, especially in countries where students have heavy study-loads. Merits of the different educational traditions also need to be considered in the designs of educational models among different countries.

Strengths and limitations

This study focuses on an interdisciplinary topic covering the fields of developmental behavioral pediatrics and education, and the establishment of appropriate school educational models is teamwork involving multiple disciplines including pediatrics, prevention, education, services and policy. Although there are lots of studies focusing on a particular factor in school educational processes to promote student mental health, comprehensive analysis/understanding on multi-component educational model is lacking, which is important and urgently needed for the development of multi-dimensional educational models/strategies. Therefore, we included a wide range of related studies, summarized a comprehensive understanding of the evidence base, and discussed the interrelationships among the components/factors of school educational models and the cross-cultural gaps in K-12 education across different societies, which may have significant implications for future policy-making.

Some limitations also exist and are worth noting. First, this review used the method of the scoping review which adopted a descriptive approach, rather than the meta-analysis or systematic review which provided a rigorous method of synthesizing the literature. Under the subject (appropriate school education model among K-12 students) of this scoping review, multiple related topics (including curriculum, homework and tests, physical activities, interpersonal relationships and after-school activities) were included rather than one specific topic. Therefore, we consider that the method of the scoping-review is appropriate, given that the aim of this review is to chart or map the available literature on a given subject rather than answering a specific question by providing effect sizes across multiple studies. Second, we limited the study search within recent 5 years. Although we consider that the fields involved in this scoping review change quickly with the acquisition of new knowledge/information in recent 5 years, limiting the literature search within recent 5 years may make us miss some related but relatively old literature. Third, we only included studies disseminated in English or Chinese, which may limit the generalizability of our results to other non-English/Chinese speaking countries.

This scoping review has revealed that the K-12 schools are unique settings where almost all the children and adolescents can be reached, and through which existing educational components (such as curriculum, homework and tests, physical activities, interpersonal relationships and after-school activities) can be leveraged and integrated to form a holistic model of school education, and therefore to promote student mental health. In future, the school may be considered as an ideal setting to implement school-based mental health interventions. Our review suggests the need of comprehensive multi-component educational model, which involves academic, social and physical factors, to be established to improve student academic achievement and simultaneously maintain their mental health.

However, questions still remain as to what is optimal integration of various educational components to form the best model of school education, and how to promote the wide application of the appropriate school educational model. Individual differences among students/schools and cross-cultural differences may need to be considered in the model design process.

Availability of data and materials

The data analysed in this review are available from the corresponding author upon request.

Abbreviations

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Physical education

Randomized controlled trials

Social emotional learning

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Acknowledgements

We thank the librarian of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine for their help.

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC, 81974486, 81673189) (to Jian Xu), Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine Gaofeng Clinical Medicine Grant Support (20172016) (to Jian Xu), Shanghai Sailing Program (21YF1451500) (to Hui Hua).

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Ting Yu, Jian Xu, Yining Jiang, Hui Hua, Yulai Zhou & Xiangrong Guo

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JX conceived the scoping review, supervised the review process and reviewed the manuscript. TY conducted study selection and data extraction, charted, synthesized the data, and drafted the manuscript. YJ conducted study selection and data extraction. XG, YZ and HH conducted data extraction. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Additional file 1: table s1..

Search strategies used for each database. Table S2 . Summaries of intervention studies (randomized/quasi-randomized controlled trials) investigating the effects of school-based interventions on child mental health (n = 99). Table S3. Summaries of observational research on relationships between school-related factors and student mental health outcomes (n = 98).

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Yu, T., Xu, J., Jiang, Y. et al. School educational models and child mental health among K-12 students: a scoping review. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health 16 , 32 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-022-00469-8

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New study may broaden the picture of the consequences of childhood adversity

A research team has examined the link between adverse childhood experiences and the risk of mental health problems later in life, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry . The researchers from Karolinska Institutet and University of Iceland have found that the risk of suffering from mental illness later in life among those experiencing significant adversity in childhood can be partly explained by factors shared by family members, such as genetics and environment.

Several previous studies have shown that people who have experienced various types of adverse childhood experiences have a higher risk of suffering from psychiatric illness later in life. Now, a new study from Karolinska Institutet, using a special type of twin research design, can confirm the link, show a clear dose-response relationship and at the same time broaden the picture. The researchers can now show that there are also significant genetic and environmental factors that play a role and contribute to mental illness.

The researchers used three different cohorts of the Swedish Twin Registry, comprising over 25,000 individuals. The twins' responded to a large web-based questionnaire and answered questions about different types of adverse childhood experiences including family violence, emotional abuse or neglect, physical neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape and hate crime. In addition, information about adult psychiatric disorders was obtained from the Swedish Patient Registry.

"These are of course very difficult questions to answer, but this is the best data source we have access to," says Hilda Björk Daníelsdóttir, a doctoral student at the University of Iceland and visiting doctoral student at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet and the study's first author.

By identifying twin pairs who reported different experiences of abuse while growing up in the same family and then following those who later received a psychiatric diagnosis, the researchers have been able to sort out how much of the increased risk is due to the abuse itself and how much is due to genetics and environment.

"Most previous studies on the mental health effects of childhood adversity have not been able to take these things into account. Now we can show that the increased risk of mental health problems after adverse childhood experiences can be partly explained by factors shared by family members, such as genetic factors or factors in the childhood environment," says Hilda Björk Daníelsdóttir.

She argues that this finding should therefore lead to health care interventions addressing risk factors within the whole family, not just the affected child or children.

The more different types of childhood adversities individuals experienced, the higher the risk was of receiving a psychiatric diagnosis later in life. The researchers can also show that sexual abuse and rape in childhood as well as having experienced three or more types of adversities were the experiences most strongly linked to future mental health problems. This is something that is also important knowledge when treating vulnerable children and their families.

"I hope that our study can raise awareness of childhood circumstances as possible causes of psychiatric disorders in adulthood and how to best address them,' says Hilda Björk Daníelsdóttir.

The research was funded by the European Research Council, the Icelandic Research Center and the EU's Horizon 2020.

  • Mental Health Research
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  • Mental Health
  • Disorders and Syndromes
  • Child Development
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychopathology
  • Premature birth
  • Early childhood education
  • Mental retardation

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  • Hilda Björk Daníelsdóttir, Thor Aspelund, Qing Shen, Thorhildur Halldorsdottir, Jóhanna Jakobsdóttir, Huan Song, Donghao Lu, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Henrik Larsson, Katja Fall, Patrik K. E. Magnusson, Fang Fang, Jacob Bergstedt, Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir. Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental Health Outcomes . JAMA Psychiatry , 2024; DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2024.0039

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When Teens Visit Doctors, Increasingly the Subject is Mental Health

Matt Richtel

By Matt Richtel

Increasingly, doctor visits by adolescents and young adults involve mental health diagnoses, along with the prescription of psychiatric medications.

That was the conclusion of a new study that found that in 2019, 17 percent of outpatient doctor visits for patients ages 13 to 24 in the United States involved a behavioral or mental health condition, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm or other issues. That figure rose sharply from 2006, when just 9 percent of doctor’s visits involved psychiatric illnesses.

The study , published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, also found a sharp increase in the proportion of visits involving psychiatric medications. In 2019, 22.4 percent of outpatient visits by the 13-24 age group involved the prescription of at least one psychiatric drug, up from 13 percent in 2006.

The Big Picture

The study is the latest evidence in a shift in the kinds of ailments affecting children, adolescents and young adults. For many decades, their health care visits involved more bodily ailments, such as broken bones, viruses and drunken-driving injuries. Increasingly, however, doctors are seeing a wide variety of behavioral and mental health issues.

An instructor stands next to a whiteboard in front of a classroom of students wearing orange uniforms.

The reasons are not entirely clear. Some experts have said that modern life presents a new kind of mental pressure, even as society has limited the risks of physical ailments.

The latest study does not posit a reason for the shift. But the pandemic alone was not to blame, it noted. “These findings suggest the increase in mental health conditions seen among youth during the pandemic occurred in the setting of already increasing rates of psychiatric illness,” wrote the authors, a pediatrician and psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. “Treatment and prevention strategies will need to account for factors beyond the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic.”

The Numbers

The analysis was drawn from the National Ambulatory Care Survey, which asks a sample of clinicians from across the country about the reasons for patient visits. Between 2006 and 2019, patients aged 13 to 24 made 1.1 billion health care visits, of which 145 million involved mental health issues. But the share of mental-health-related visits rose each year, the study found, as did the prescription of psychiatric medications, including stimulants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety drugs.

The study found that antidepressants had the greatest increase, but it did not specify the exact level, said Dr. Florence T. Bourgeois, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the paper.

The prescription patterns leave an open question, she said.

“We can’t differentiate whether this speaks to the severity of conditions or changes in prescribing attitudes and trends,” she said. Either way, she added, “We are treating these conditions aggressively.”

Matt Richtel is a health and science reporter for The Times, based in Boulder, Colo. More about Matt Richtel

Managing Anxiety and Stress

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Psychreg

When Is Homework Stressful? Its Effects on Students’ Mental Health

student online learning

Are you wondering when is homework stressful? Well, homework is a vital constituent in keeping students attentive to the course covered in a class. By applying the lessons, students learned in class, they can gain a mastery of the material by reflecting on it in greater detail and applying what they learned through homework. 

However, students get advantages from homework, as it improves soft skills like organisation and time management which are important after high school. However, the additional work usually causes anxiety for both the parents and the child. As their load of homework accumulates, some students may find themselves growing more and more bored.

Students may take assistance online and ask someone to do my online homework . As there are many platforms available for the students such as Chegg, Scholarly Help, and Quizlet offering academic services that can assist students in completing their homework on time. 

Negative impact of homework

There are the following reasons why is homework stressful and leads to depression for students and affect their mental health. As they work hard on their assignments for alarmingly long periods, students’ mental health is repeatedly put at risk. Here are some serious arguments against too much homework.

No uniqueness

Homework should be intended to encourage children to express themselves more creatively. Teachers must assign kids intriguing assignments that highlight their uniqueness. similar to writing an essay on a topic they enjoy.

Moreover, the key is encouraging the child instead of criticizing him for writing a poor essay so that he can express himself more creatively.

Lack of sleep

One of the most prevalent adverse effects of schoolwork is lack of sleep. The average student only gets about 5 hours of sleep per night since they stay up late to complete their homework, even though the body needs at least 7 hours of sleep every day. Lack of sleep has an impact on both mental and physical health.

No pleasure

Students learn more effectively while they are having fun. They typically learn things more quickly when their minds are not clouded by fear. However, the fear factor that most teachers introduce into homework causes kids to turn to unethical means of completing their assignments.

Excessive homework

The lack of coordination between teachers in the existing educational system is a concern. As a result, teachers frequently end up assigning children far more work than they can handle. In such circumstances, children turn to cheat on their schoolwork by either copying their friends’ work or using online resources that assist with homework.

Anxiety level

Homework stress can increase anxiety levels and that could hurt the blood pressure norms in young people . Do you know? Around 3.5% of young people in the USA have high blood pressure. So why is homework stressful for children when homework is meant to be enjoyable and something they look forward to doing? It is simple to reject this claim by asserting that schoolwork is never enjoyable, yet with some careful consideration and preparation, homework may become pleasurable.

No time for personal matters

Students that have an excessive amount of homework miss out on personal time. They can’t get enough enjoyment. There is little time left over for hobbies, interpersonal interaction with colleagues, and other activities. 

However, many students dislike doing their assignments since they don’t have enough time. As they grow to detest it, they can stop learning. In any case, it has a significant negative impact on their mental health.

Children are no different than everyone else in need of a break. Weekends with no homework should be considered by schools so that kids have time to unwind and prepare for the coming week. Without a break, doing homework all week long might be stressful.

How do parents help kids with homework?

Encouraging children’s well-being and health begins with parents being involved in their children’s lives. By taking part in their homework routine, you can see any issues your child may be having and offer them the necessary support.

Set up a routine

Your student will develop and maintain good study habits if you have a clear and organized homework regimen. If there is still a lot of schoolwork to finish, try putting a time limit. Students must obtain regular, good sleep every single night.

Observe carefully

The student is ultimately responsible for their homework. Because of this, parents should only focus on ensuring that their children are on track with their assignments and leave it to the teacher to determine what skills the students have and have not learned in class.

Listen to your child

One of the nicest things a parent can do for their kids is to ask open-ended questions and listen to their responses. Many kids are reluctant to acknowledge they are struggling with their homework because they fear being labelled as failures or lazy if they do.

However, every parent wants their child to succeed to the best of their ability, but it’s crucial to be prepared to ease the pressure if your child starts to show signs of being overburdened with homework.

Talk to your teachers

Also, make sure to contact the teacher with any problems regarding your homework by phone or email. Additionally, it demonstrates to your student that you and their teacher are working together to further their education.

Homework with friends

If you are still thinking is homework stressful then It’s better to do homework with buddies because it gives them these advantages. Their stress is reduced by collaborating, interacting, and sharing with peers.

Additionally, students are more relaxed when they work on homework with pals. It makes even having too much homework manageable by ensuring they receive the support they require when working on the assignment. Additionally, it improves their communication abilities.

However, doing homework with friends guarantees that one learns how to communicate well and express themselves. 

Review homework plan

Create a schedule for finishing schoolwork on time with your child. Every few weeks, review the strategy and make any necessary adjustments. Gratefully, more schools are making an effort to control the quantity of homework assigned to children to lessen the stress this produces.

Bottom line

Finally, be aware that homework-related stress is fairly prevalent and is likely to occasionally affect you or your student. Sometimes all you or your kid needs to calm down and get back on track is a brief moment of comfort. So if you are a student and wondering if is homework stressful then you must go through this blog.

While homework is a crucial component of a student’s education, when kids are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to perform, the advantages of homework can be lost and grades can suffer. Finding a balance that ensures students understand the material covered in class without becoming overburdened is therefore essential.

Zuella Montemayor did her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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Is it time to get rid of homework? Mental health experts weigh in.

studies on homework and mental health

It's no secret that kids hate homework. And as students grapple with an ongoing pandemic that has had a wide range of mental health impacts, is it time schools start listening to their pleas about workloads?

Some teachers are turning to social media to take a stand against homework. 

Tiktok user @misguided.teacher says he doesn't assign it because the "whole premise of homework is flawed."

For starters, he says, he can't grade work on "even playing fields" when students' home environments can be vastly different.

"Even students who go home to a peaceful house, do they really want to spend their time on busy work? Because typically that's what a lot of homework is, it's busy work," he says in the video that has garnered 1.6 million likes. "You only get one year to be 7, you only got one year to be 10, you only get one year to be 16, 18."

Mental health experts agree heavy workloads have the potential do more harm than good for students, especially when taking into account the impacts of the pandemic. But they also say the answer may not be to eliminate homework altogether.

Emmy Kang, mental health counselor at Humantold , says studies have shown heavy workloads can be "detrimental" for students and cause a "big impact on their mental, physical and emotional health."

"More than half of students say that homework is their primary source of stress, and we know what stress can do on our bodies," she says, adding that staying up late to finish assignments also leads to disrupted sleep and exhaustion.

Cynthia Catchings, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Talkspace , says heavy workloads can also cause serious mental health problems in the long run, like anxiety and depression. 

And for all the distress homework  can cause, it's not as useful as many may think, says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychologist and CEO of Omega Recovery treatment center.

"The research shows that there's really limited benefit of homework for elementary age students, that really the school work should be contained in the classroom," he says.

For older students, Kang says, homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night. 

"Most students, especially at these high achieving schools, they're doing a minimum of three hours, and it's taking away time from their friends, from their families, their extracurricular activities. And these are all very important things for a person's mental and emotional health."

Catchings, who also taught third to 12th graders for 12 years, says she's seen the positive effects of a no-homework policy while working with students abroad.

"Not having homework was something that I always admired from the French students (and) the French schools, because that was helping the students to really have the time off and really disconnect from school," she says.

The answer may not be to eliminate homework completely but to be more mindful of the type of work students take home, suggests Kang, who was a high school teacher for 10 years.

"I don't think (we) should scrap homework; I think we should scrap meaningless, purposeless busy work-type homework. That's something that needs to be scrapped entirely," she says, encouraging teachers to be thoughtful and consider the amount of time it would take for students to complete assignments.

The pandemic made the conversation around homework more crucial 

Mindfulness surrounding homework is especially important in the context of the past two years. Many students will be struggling with mental health issues that were brought on or worsened by the pandemic , making heavy workloads even harder to balance.

"COVID was just a disaster in terms of the lack of structure. Everything just deteriorated," Kardaras says, pointing to an increase in cognitive issues and decrease in attention spans among students. "School acts as an anchor for a lot of children, as a stabilizing force, and that disappeared."

But even if students transition back to the structure of in-person classes, Kardaras suspects students may still struggle after two school years of shifted schedules and disrupted sleeping habits.

"We've seen adults struggling to go back to in-person work environments from remote work environments. That effect is amplified with children because children have less resources to be able to cope with those transitions than adults do," he explains.

'Get organized' ahead of back-to-school

In order to make the transition back to in-person school easier, Kang encourages students to "get good sleep, exercise regularly (and) eat a healthy diet."

To help manage workloads, she suggests students "get organized."

"There's so much mental clutter up there when you're disorganized. ... Sitting down and planning out their study schedules can really help manage their time," she says.

Breaking up assignments can also make things easier to tackle.

"I know that heavy workloads can be stressful, but if you sit down and you break down that studying into smaller chunks, they're much more manageable."

If workloads are still too much, Kang encourages students to advocate for themselves.

"They should tell their teachers when a homework assignment just took too much time or if it was too difficult for them to do on their own," she says. "It's good to speak up and ask those questions. Respectfully, of course, because these are your teachers. But still, I think sometimes teachers themselves need this feedback from their students."

More: Some teachers let their students sleep in class. Here's what mental health experts say.

More: Some parents are slipping young kids in for the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors discourage the move as 'risky'

  • Open access
  • Published: 27 June 2023

The relationship between homeworking during COVID-19 and both, mental health, and productivity: a systematic review

  • Charlotte E. Hall 1 , 2 , 3 ,
  • Louise Davidson 2 , 4 ,
  • Samantha K. Brooks 1 , 3 ,
  • Neil Greenberg 1 , 3 &
  • Dale Weston 2  

BMC Psychology volume  11 , Article number:  188 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

3749 Accesses

24 Altmetric

Metrics details

As of March 2020, the UK public were instructed to work from home where possible and as a result, nearly half of those in employment did so during the following month. Pre-pandemic, around 5% of workers chose to work from home; it was often seen as advantageous, for example due to eliminating commuting time and increasing flexibility. However, homeworking also had negative connotations, for example, blurred boundaries between work and home life due to a sense of constant connectivity to the workplace. Understanding the psychological impact of working from home in an enforced and prolonged manner due to the COVID-19 pandemic is important. Therefore, this review sought to establish the relationship between working from home, mental health, and productivity.

In January 2022, literature searches were conducted across four electronic databases: Medline, Embase, PsycInfo and Web of Science. In February 2022 grey literature searches were conducted using Google Advanced Search, NHS Evidence; Gov.uk Publications and the British Library directory of online doctoral theses. Published and unpublished literature which collected data after March 2020, included participants who experienced working from home for at least some of their working hours, and detailed the association in terms of mental health or productivity were included.

In total 6,906 citations were screened and 25 papers from electronic databases were included. Grey literature searching resulted in two additional papers. Therefore, 27 studies were included in this review. Findings suggest the association between homeworking and both, mental health and productivity varies considerably, suggesting a complex relationship, with many factors (e.g., demographics, occupation) having an influence on the relationship.

We found that there was no clear consensus as to the association between working from home and mental health or productivity. However, there are indications that those who start homeworking for the first time during a pandemic are at risk of poor productivity, as are those who experience poor mental health. Suggestions for future research are suggested.

Peer Review reports

Within the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic led to several behavioural interventions being implemented by the government with the aim to reduce transmission of the virus. As of March 2020, the public were instructed to work from home and as a result, nearly half of those in employment did so during April 2020 [ 1 ]. As of January 2022, 36% of workers still reported homeworking at least once in the last seven days [ 2 ]. Pre-pandemic, only around 5% of workers chose to work from home [ 3 ] and findings on the impact of doing so is inconsistent. For some, homeworking was seen as a positive way of overcoming issues (e.g., decreasing commuting time [ 4 ]). However, homeworking also had negative connotations, for example, blurred boundaries between work and home life due to a sense of constant connectivity to the workplace [ 5 ]. Considering the potential disadvantages of homeworking pre-pandemic, understanding the psychological effect of enforced and prolonged working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is important.

Unsurprisingly, since the onset of the pandemic, the association between working from home and various aspects of health have been the subject of much research. Literature reviews, including papers from pre-pandemic, have reported mixed findings. For example, a rapid review conducted by Oakman (2020), contained 23 studies published between 2008 and 2020, explored the link between working from home and mental and physical health. For mental health specifically, the relationship was reported to be complex with many conflicting findings (e.g., increased stress and increased well-being; [ 6 ]). Varied findings have also been reported by a systematic review conducted by Lunde (2022) which sought to establish the relationship between working from home and employee health (examined outcomes included: general health, pain, well-being, stress, exhaustion and burnout, satisfaction, life and leisure) using studies published between 2010 to 2020 [ 7 ].

A scoping review focused on more current pandemic related research was conducted by Elbaz (2022) and aimed to establish the association between telework (i.e., a working arrangement that allows individuals to engage in work activities through information and communication technologies from outside the main work location [ 8 ]) and work-life balance using studies published between January 2020 and December 2021. 42 papers were included, and the review concluded that teleworking resulted in a mixed relationship. However, the link between teleworking and psychological health was typically more negative than positive [ 8 ].

Thus, the purpose of this review is to establish if there is an association between working from home and both, mental health, and productivity; specifically, for those who experienced working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This systematic review seeks to, first, contribute to the evidence base by being the first review to collate findings from published and grey literature research originating from economically developed countries (as indicated by membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; OECD) into the link between working from home and both, mental health, and productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, to establish risk or resilience (as defined as positive adaptation in response to adversity [ 9 ]) factors that make an individual more likely to adapt well to homeworking during a pandemic. Third, to provide findings and conclusions that can be used to establish implications and future research suggestions for improving the experience of homeworking for those doing so during a future public health emergency.

This systematic review is designed in concordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines [ 10 ]. This results in the method section describing and explaining the process of criteria selection, use of information sources, the search strategy, study selection, data collection, quality assessment and the analytical method used during the review.

Eligibility criteria

The development of inclusion and exclusion criteria for the current review was iterative and developed alongside literature familiarisation, preliminary database searches, and research team meetings. The final inclusion and exclusion criteria for the current systematic review can be found in Table 1 .

Information sources

Electronic database searches.

Search terms were created in relation to population/context, intervention, and outcome of the research question, as recommended by Cochrane’s Handbook for Systematic Reviews [ 11 ]. Terms were developed a priori from current literature and developed iteratively by the research team using preliminary searches to ensure a manageable and focused scope of investigation.

The final search was conducted on the 25 th of January 2022 across the following databases:

Ovid®SP MEDLINE.® 1946 to January 18, 2022

Ovid.®SP Embase 1974 to 2022 January 14

Ovid.®SP APA PsycINFO 1806 to January Week 2 2022

Web of Science™ Core Collection

The final search involved two strings of terms: firstly, those relating to homeworking, and secondly, psychological terms encompassing mental health, resilience, and productivity. Where possible, databased controlled vocabulary was used. Free text terms remained consistent across all four searches, only differing on database specific truncation and use of punctuation. Free text terms were searched within titles and abstracts on Medline, Embase and APA PsychINFO. Free text terms were searched within title, abstract, author keywords and Keywords Plus in Web of Science Core Collection. All searches were limited to 2020 – current, to only capture data related to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full search strategies for all databases, including filters and limits used can be found in Supplemental Table 1 .

Grey literature searches

The following sources were searched on the 1 st of February 2022: Google Advanced Search, NHS Evidence; Gov.uk Publications; and the British Library directory of online doctoral theses (EThOS).

The following search was used for the Google Advanced Search, NHS evidence, and EthOS. For the Google Advanced Search, the results were ordered by most relevant, and the first 20 pages (totalling 200 hits) were screened. The NHS search was limited to primary research only.

(“work from home” OR “telework” OR “homework”)

(“mental health” OR “productivity” OR “resilience”)

The remaining searches were kept relatively simple due to small numbers of papers available shown during preliminary searches. Gov.uk Publication searches were limited to: ‘research’ or ‘statistics’ or ‘policy papers and consultations’, including the terms “homework”, “telework”, or “work from home”. Office for National Statistics searches were “homework”, “telework” or “work from home”. Full search strategies for all registers and websites, including filters and limits used can be found in Supplemental Table 2 .

Study selection

Results of the literature searches were downloaded to EndNote X9 reference management software (Thomson Reuters, New York, United States (US)). Initial screening was carried out for all titles and abstracts against the inclusion and exclusion criteria by one author (CEH). Each study was categorised into one of the following groups: “include”, “exclude” or “unsure”. A 10% check of excluded papers (~ 400 records) was carried out by a second reviewer (LD), any papers marked as potentially relevant by LD were then rescreened by CEH. Both of the “include” and “unsure” categories then were subject to full text screening. To provide robustness to the review process, 10% of the papers were also full text screened by a second reviewer (LD). When there were disagreements between reviewers (i.e., on 3/12 papers), a third reviewer (SKB) was used, and the majority decision taken. Articles were then categorised into “include” or “exclude”. A PRIMSA flowchart of the screening process is presented in Fig.  1 .

figure 1

PRISMA flow diagram

Data extraction and synthesis

Data was extracted using a data extraction spreadsheet by one author (CEH). Article data and information extracted included: authors; title; type of document (e.g., publication, governmental report); publication year; publication origin; aims and hypotheses; size of sample; sample demographics and characteristics; variables of interest examined, outcome measures; key findings, limitations, and recommendations. Extraction of this data allowed for study characteristics (e.g., date of publication, country of origin, sample characteristics, outcome measures) to be reported alongside key findings, whilst considering reported study limitations and recommendations/implications suggested by the authors. A 20% check of extracted data relating to key findings was carried out by LD, no discrepancies found between reviewers. Narrative synthesis was used to collate findings from the retained papers [ 12 ]. Research findings were firstly grouped by variables examined (e.g., productivity or mental health focused), and a narrative was synthesised.

Quality assessment

The Mixed Methods Appraisal tool [ 13 ] was used to appraise the quality of included studies based on the information provided in the papers. This tool was chosen due to its ability to appraise both qualitative and quantitative studies whilst also accounting for the differences between types of study. Many reviews have used this tool for quality assessment, for example [ 14 , 15 , 16 ]. Papers were checked for suitability using the following screening questions: “Are there clear research questions?”; “Do the collected data allow to address the research questions?”. Each study was then assessed using five questions relevant to the methodological approach used within the paper [ 13 ]. One author carried out the quality appraisal (CEH).

In total 6,906 search results were extracted from electronic databases. Post duplication screening, 4,233 papers remained for title and abstract screening. 119 papers were sought for retrieval, one paper [ 17 ] was deemed potentially relevant to the review, but after exhausting all means of accessing the full text the paper had to be excluded from the review. Following title and abstract screening, 118 full texts were screened, and 25 studies were retained as they aligned with the inclusion criteria. Two additional studies were included as a result of grey literature searches. Therefore, 27 studies were included in this review (refer to Fig.  1 for flow diagram).

Study characteristics

Date of publication.

No papers included in this review were published prior to 2020, as per the exclusion criteria. Only one paper was published in 2020 [ 18 ], 25 papers were published in 2021 [ 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ], and one paper was published in 2022 [ 44 ].

Country of origin

Data extracted relating to the location of the first authors institution at the time of publication was extracted to display geographical spread of the papers retained within this review. As per the inclusion criterion, all paper origins are from OECD countries. The location of papers is relatively varied, with four papers originating from each of the USA [ 21 , 28 , 30 , 43 ], the UK [ 19 , 39 , 40 , 42 ] and Japan [ 32 , 33 , 34 , 38 ]. Three papers originated from Turkey [ 26 , 27 , 37 ], and Italy [ 18 , 22 , 24 ]. Two papers originated from Columbia [ 23 , 35 ]. The remaining papers originated from Canada [ 31 ], Germany [ 44 ], Luxembourg [ 36 ], the Netherlands [ 41 ], Portugal [ 20 ], Spain [ 25 ] and Sweden [ 29 ].

Study design

The majority of the retained papers used similar methodological approaches to collect data; 24 out of 27 of the papers used online surveys [ 18 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 ]. It is necessary to note that, three of these papers used additional qualitative elements in their surveys [ 39 , 40 , 42 ], and four surveys collected data at multiple time points [ 36 , 38 , 41 , 44 ]. Of the remaining three papers, two used secondary data analysis [ 26 , 44 ], and one paper [ 19 ] used semi-structed interviews to collect data.

Variables examined and measures

Of the 27 papers, 13 focused specifically on mental health outcomes [ 22 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 28 , 29 , 33 , 34 , 36 , 37 , 41 , 42 , 43 ], six on productivity outcomes [ 20 , 21 , 23 , 27 , 31 , 32 ], and eight included both mental health and productivity outcomes [ 18 , 19 , 30 , 35 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 44 ]. All measures used varied across studies with many being unvalidated. Table 2 shows more in-depth details about variable measures.

Study sample

There was substantial variation in the sample characteristics across the included papers. Sample size varied highly between papers, ranging from n  = 32 [ 19 ] to n  = 20,395 [ 34 ]. In relation to job role, many papers included participants from difference sectors and occupations within their study [ 19 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 25 , 27 , 28 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 41 , 43 , 44 ], two included a representative participant group [ 26 , 36 ], some targeted specific occupations or groups (e.g., Alumni from the Portuguese AESE Business School [ 20 ]; Italian professionals [ 24 ]; university staff [ 29 , 42 ]; behaviour analysists [ 30 ]; administrative workers [ 18 ]) and, some did not provide information on job role but focused on home working populations [ 34 , 35 , 40 ]. Table 3 displays extracted data in relation to sample size and characteristics including location and job role details.

Quality appraisal

Overall quality of papers varied across the 27 that were retained, with an average score of 62%. The MMAT quality scores as a percentage can be found in Table 2 . The included papers within this systematic review varied in quality. Many were cross-sectional, quantitative in methodology, and recruited participants using snowball or opportunistic sampling. This resulted in some unclear sample characteristics (e.g., not knowing where a percentage of participants were from), and uncertainty as to how often the sample were working from home. Only three of the retained papers within this review used qualitative research elements, and there was no common method for measuring mental health, or productivity across homeworking research.

To allow comparisons across and between research, findings relating to mental health and productivity will be separated and reported on separately in the following section.

  • Mental health

This following section details outcomes relating to mental health and synthesises the following outcomes from 21 papers: ‘depression’ [ 20 , 22 , 33 , 37 , 42 ]; ‘anxiety’ [ 20 , 22 , 33 , 37 , 42 ]; ‘stress’ (including work stress) [ 18 , 22 , 28 , 29 , 35 , 37 , 38 ]; ‘psychological distress’ [ 24 , 34 , 41 ]; wellbeing [ 36 ] (including ‘subjective wellbeing’ [ 24 ], ‘psychological wellbeing’ [ 25 ]; ‘mental wellbeing’ [ 26 , 42 , 43 ]); ‘health’ [ 29 ]; ‘burnout’ [ 28 , 30 , 44 ]; and general ‘mental health’ [ 39 , 40 ]. Table 2 provides additional information on how these outcomes are measured, and it is necessary to note that there are overlap in how outcomes are described (i.e., ‘mental wellbeing’, ‘psychological wellbeing’, ‘health’, and ‘psychological distress’ were all measured using the same questionnaire).

The findings in relation to mental health varied across the retained papers. Many of the papers reported a negative relationship between homeworking and mental health and wellbeing [ 19 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 29 , 30 , 33 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 43 , 44 ]. For example, one paper established that the transition to homeworking during the pandemic increased psychological strain due to increased work intensification, poor adaptation to new ways of working, and online presenteeism [ 19 ]. Another paper reported that out of those who continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e., not furloughed, or unemployed), teleworkers experienced less self-perceived wellbeing than those who continued working at their pre-COVID-19 workplace [ 25 ].

Some of the retained papers concluded a mixed findings in relation to home working and mental health. For example, despite a main finding that working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic results in lower levels of well-being, Schifano et al., also concluded that when the sample only includes those who switched to homeworking from office working, there is a small fall in anxiety levels when moving to working from home [ 36 ]. Additionally, Taylor et al., reports that around 40 per cent believe that their mental health had worsened either a lot or a little since working from home, compared to around 30 per cent that believed their mental health had improved [ 39 ]. Similarly, Moretti et al., reports that around 40 per cent of participants declared a reduced stress level since they have worked remotely, around 30 per cent reported an unchanged level, and one-third of participants experienced increased stress [ 18 ].

Homeworking was found to have no association with burnout by one retained paper [ 30 ]. Shimura et al., provides evidence that remote work does decrease psychological and physical stress responses when controlling for confounding factors such as job stressors, social support, and sleep status [ 38 ]. Working from home was also considered to be better for wellbeing in comparison to being furloughed or unemployed [ 25 , 36 ].

Factors affecting mental health when homeworking

Demographics.

When considering age, findings were mixed. One paper reported being older [ 36 ] resulted in poorer mental health outcomes. Additionally, another paper focused on stress and burnout specifically reported that being a young male [ 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ], an older male (55 +) or a middle aged or older woman (45 +) resulted in increased stress, and being a middle-aged man [ 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 , 54 ] increased burnout [ 28 ].

Being female was reported to result in increases of depression, anxiety, and stress [ 37 ]. Females were also reported to experience two or more new physical or mental health issues were provided in comparison to male workers [ 43 ]. In this study, nine types of physical issues were assessed, these included, but are not limited to, musculoskeletal discomfort or injury, headaches or migraines, cardiovascular issues. Eight types of mental health issues were assessed, these included, but are not limited to, anxiety or nervousness, mental stress, rumination or worry, depression, sadness, or feeling blue [ 43 ].

Those considered better-educated were reported to have worsened mental health outcomes [ 36 ]. Those working in the field of “education and research” judged their telework experience to be much worse than participants working in other fields (e.g., ‘IT and telecommunication’, ‘Public administration and law enforcement agencies’, ‘Health and social services’ and ‘Legal and administrative services’) and were less willing to replicate the telework experience, there were also higher levels of stress and anxiety apparent [ 22 ].

Living arrangements

Living and working in a home which is considered crowded or confined resulted in poorer mental health [ 33 , 36 ]. Having a larger house and living with a partner, or with one or two housemates, was also found to be protective of mental health [ 22 ].

Results are mixed in relation to working in a household that includes children. On one hand, having young children in the home was considered to have a negative link to wellbeing, supposedly related to increased demands [ 36 ]. Whereas other research reported having infants (less than two years old) or toddlers (two to five years of age) at home as protective of wellbeing but were also associated with more mental health issues [ 43 ]. These conflicting findings were reasoned to be due to working parents being able to spend more time at home with their children, resulting in better mental wellbeing. However, due to work-life strain caused by increased demands and lack of support (i.e., from babysitters) during working hours there is an increase in new physical and mental issues apparent [ 43 ].

Isolation or loneliness

Spending more time remote working was considered to increase perceptions of isolation, and isolation and psychological distress were reported to mutually affect each other over time [ 41 ]. Additionally, having frequent contacts with work colleagues was considered protective factors of mental health [ 22 ].

Homeworking preference

Workers who preferred to work from home experienced less psychological distress with increasing telecommuting frequency, while those who preferred not to telecommute experienced more psychological distress with increasing telecommuting frequency [ 34 ].

Length of time homeworking

The association between working from home and mental health and wellbeing was found to differ depending on frequency and length of time home working [ 26 , 29 , 33 , 44 ].

One paper found working from home for a short duration was considered no different on mental well-being in comparison to those always working at the employer’s premises [ 26 ]. Niu et al., found that there was initially no difference in the mental health between workers who continued working in the office and those who switched to telework, but participants who teleworked for a longer period showed more severe anxiety and depression in comparison to those who teleworked for a short period. [ 33 ]. Similarly, those working from home for a high percentage of their weekly hours reported more negative psychological symptoms than employees who work from home for less hours [ 44 ], and higher ratings of stress were also reported in those working from home several times per week in comparison to those who worked from home less than once per month [ 29 ].

  • Productivity

This following section details outcomes relating to productivity and synthesises the following outcomes from 14 papers: ‘productivity’[ 18 , 21 , 27 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 35 , 40 ], ‘performance’ [ 23 , 39 ], ‘percieved productivity’ [ 20 ], ‘level of work ability’ [ 44 ], ‘presenteeism’ [ 38 ]. Table 2 provides additional information on how these outcomes are measured.

The findings in relation to productivity varied across the retained papers. Some of the retained papers concluded a negative relationship between home working and productivity [ 19 , 30 , 32 , 40 ]. For example, Adisa (2021) found that the transition to home working from office-based work caused increased work intensification, online presenteeism and employment insecurity – which resulted in psychological strain and poor levels of work engagement [ 19 ]. Similarly, increased work intensity (e.g., receiving more information from teams and engaging in more planning activities) due to working from home also resulted in decreased worker productivity [ 30 ]. Morikawa et al., concludes that productivity whilst working from home was about 60–70% of the productivity at business premises, and was especially low for employees and firms that started homeworking after the onset of the COVID pandemic [ 32 ]. A UK-wide survey of office workers (including telecom, local government, financial services and civil service staff) who were working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic reported that since the onset of homeworking, 30% reported of workers that it is now more difficult to meet targets, and they had concerns of underperforming [ 39 ].

Some studies concluded that working from home was in fact no different in comparison to office working in terms of productivity [ 23 ]. This was reported for those who worked at home pre-COVID-19 and tended to practice working from home frequently [ 32 ]. Additionally, other research concluded that 90% of new teleworkers reported being at least as productive (i.e., accomplishing at least as much work per hour at home) as they were previously in their usual place of work [ 31 ].

Moretti et al., reported that working at home resulted in productivity decreasing in 39.2% and an increasing in 29.4% of participants [ 18 ]. However, Guler et al., established that participants who worked from home were more relaxed, more efficient, and they produced better quality work [ 27 ]. Despite reported increased or no change to levels of productivity, some research studies did find that those working from home were reporting longer working hours [ 21 , 27 ].

Factors affecting productivity when homeworking

Two papers reported that males were less productive than females when working from home [ 20 , 21 ]. Those who are older and have higher levels of income are also more likely to be productive when homeworking [ 21 ], as were those who are unmarried with no children [ 31 ]. Those who are highly educated, high wage employees, long distance commuters, tended to exhibit a relatively small reduction in productivity [ 32 ]. Having an appropiate workspace was also associated with higher levels of productivity [ 21 ].

In terms of occupation, “scientists” were most likely to have the highest level of productivity, in comparison to “engineering and architecture,” “computer sciences and mathematics” and “healthcare and social services.” [ 21 ]. Other research also supported that those who work in in information and communications industry only displayed a relatively small reduction in productivity [ 32 ]. Higher levels of productivity in were also apparent in public administration (41%) as well as in health care and social assistance (45%). In contrast, the corresponding percentage was lower in goods-producing industries (31%) and educational services (25%) [ 31 ].

Mental health and productivity

A few of the retained studies looked at the interaction between mental health and productivity whilst homeworking [ 21 , 27 , 35 ]. In a sample of staff that had been working from home for more than 6 months, it was reported that they were less stressed, more efficient, and had better quality of work during working from home period according to self-report data [ 27 ]. Other research reported that having an appropiate workspace, and better mental health was also associated with higher levels of productivity [ 21 ]. Stress was also found to lessen the positive association between working remotely on productivity and engagement [ 35 ].

This systematic literature review sought to 1) explore the association between working from home and both, mental health, and productivity, and 2) establish potential risk factors. Literature searches encompassed both peer previewed published literature and grey literature, 27 papers were retained post screening and included within this review. The results established that relationship between homeworking and both, mental health and productivity varies considerably, suggesting a complex association with many mediating and moderating factors.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of enforced and prolonged homeworking, working from home was often considered advantageous. Research often concluded that homeworking had multiple advantages [ 4 , 45 , 46 , 47 ]. There were also potential concerns reported with homeworking [ 45 , 48 ], for example in relation constant connectivity to the workplace [ 5 ], but these were not considered to outweigh the benefits [ 48 ]. This review revealed conflicting findings, with the majority of the research suggesting a negative or mixed link to mental health, which is supported by current literature [ 6 ].

This suggests that homeworking as a choice is considered largely beneficial (i.e., as shown by research prior to the pandemic), but when homeworking is instead mandatory there is potential that it may have a more negative association for certain individuals and occupations over others.

The relationship between working from home and productivity was also mixed, in that some papers found that home workers could be more productive, whereas others found the opposite. However, most studies reviewed show that homeworking for both new starters (e.g., has only worked from home) and those transitioning to homeworking for the first time, were particularly likely to report low levels of productivity along with concerns about meeting targets. There was also consistency amongst reviewed papers that homeworkers who reported better mental health (e.g., were less stressed) were more productive which is consistent with previous research showing an inverse relationship between stress levels and productivity [ 49 , 50 ]. Taken together, findings from the current review suggest that prolonged homeworking can negatively affect mental health, and in turn, lower levels of mental health can negatively affect productivity. Therefore, there should be a focus on maintaining and mitigating workers mental health when they are asked to work from home for a prolonged period.

Feelings of isolation or loneliness in homeworkers were also considered to have a consistent link to poorer mental health. This finding is well supported as the negative association isolation and loneliness have on mental health is widely reported across research (e.g., [ 51 , 52 ], and as demonstrated in an overview of systematic reviews [ 53 ]). The ability to create a shared sense of social identity with colleagues, which is protective of workplace stress [ 54 ] and burnout [ 55 ], may be hindered by homeworking [ 56 ] which can result in feelings of isolation or loneliness. This finding suggests that opportunities for social integration should be promoted by managers and team leaders. For example, through team meetings, in person events, or where possible, office working days.

As the findings relating to both mental health and productivity were varied, examination of factors which have potential to affect this relationship were explored. Personal and practical factors such as, being female, older in age, living and working in a crowded or confined home, or having young children at home were consistently associated with worsened mental health. Literature also concludes, being female, older in age, a highly educated high wage earner, being unmarried with no children, or someone with an active advantage towards homeworking (e.g., long distance commuters), and an appropiate workspace were associated with higher levels of productivity. These findings highlight the importance of considering practical factors that could be targeted by potential interventions (e.g., exploring how to manage work and having children at home, having an appropriately sized workspace, and managing overcrowded housing situations) as well as tailoring interventions to suit the target demographic (e.g., by considering gender, age, and occupation).

Limitations

Limitations for the current review these can be split into retained paper limitations and review process limitations. In terms of retained paper limitations, quality screening established that the retained papers varied in quality. Many were cross-sectional (only four studies within the current review collected data from multiple time points), quantitative in methodology, and recruited participants using snowball or opportunistic sampling. This resulted in some unclear sample characteristics (e.g., not knowing where a percentage of participants were from), and uncertainty as to how often the sample were working from home. These elements limit the generalisability of the findings, and this should be considered when conclusions are drawn from this data.

For this review specifically there are a number of limitations to consider. Firstly, limiting the search to English only may have resulted in the exclusion of potentially relevant papers. Secondly, this review did not seek to collate findings from studies which only directly compared those who had to work from home during the pandemic vs. those who could not, or did not, work from home, which could have potentially provided clearer results. However, where papers provided comparisons (e.g., [ 25 , 36 ]) they were extracted and presented in the results. Thirdly, current literature has established that working throughout the pandemic can be negatively related to mental health [ 57 , 58 , 59 ], which makes it difficult to disentangle the impact of working from home specifically. However, in the current review, three papers indicated that homeworking has potential to be negatively linked to mental health when carried out, or continued, for a long period of time (in comparison to hybrid working or working from home for a short period). This could possibly be due to the previously reported benefits of homeworking (e.g., flexibility, eradicating commuting time, and work life balance) no longer feeling advantageous when constantly working from home. This is an area that requires more research and is discussed in more detail in the following section.

Implications and future research

The current review found that working from home is neither positively or negative related to mental health or productivity, suggesting that a one size fits all approach to tackling the mitigation and management of workers mental health and productivity whilst they work from home is not suitable nor fit for purpose. However, there are indications that those who start homeworking for the first time during a pandemic are at risk of poor productivity, as are those who experience poor mental health. This suggests that employers should aim to help those who are new to home working, for example through training or mentoring programs. Additionally, those at risk of having poor mental health should be more closely monitored and provided with early support to ensure productivity.

The varied nature of the findings also calls for more in-depth research into why homeworking has such wide-ranging effect on individuals, and what factors have potential to mitigate and moderate this relationship. Due to the wide-ranging findings, it may be sensible to focus on specific occupational contexts and qualitatively explore barriers and facilitators to working from home to provide in depth rich data. Such work is currently underway as a PhD project focused on response organisations that worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic conducted by the first author of the current review.

Considering the impact of working from home for different durations is also important, as the current review establishes that three papers indicated that homeworking has potential to be negatively associated with mental health when carried out, or continued, for a long period of time. Further empirical research is needed to provide more detail into, this finding along with examination into the factors that could impact this relationship (e.g., isolation, pre-existing mental health concerns). Resilience factors and characteristics associated with growth and flourishing whilst working from home should also be the subject of future research.

Methodologically, future research should seek to employ qualitative or mixed method designs to collect more in-depth and complete data in relation to the psychological effect of homeworking. Additionally, there should be a focus on using similar research measures when adding to the homeworking evidence base, as this would allow for research finding to be accurately compared. Similar suggestions were reported in a recent rapid review [ 60 ].

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response, a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency, King’s College London and the University of East Anglia. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, UKHSA or the Department of Health and Social Care. For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising.

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CEH, DW, SKB and NG conceptualised the review, created aims and established inclusion criteria. CEH, LD and SKB conducted the database searches and all screening in accordance with the inclusion criteria. CEH conducted quality appraisal of included papers. CEH carried out the analysis, and CEH drafted the initial manuscript; all authors provided critical revision of intellectual content. All authors reviewed and approved the final manuscript.

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Supplemental Table 1. Search Strategy. Supplemental Information Table 2. Grey literature Searches.

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Hall, C.E., Davidson, L., Brooks, S.K. et al. The relationship between homeworking during COVID-19 and both, mental health, and productivity: a systematic review. BMC Psychol 11 , 188 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-023-01221-3

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On the Importance of Mental Health in STEM

Christian w. pester.

† Department of Chemical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, United States

‡ Department of Chemistry, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, United States

∥ Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States

From homework to exams to proposal deadlines, STEM academia bears many stressors for students, faculty, and administrators. The increasing prevalence of burnout as an occupational phenomenon, along with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses in the STEM community is an alarming sign that help is needed. We describe common mental illnesses, identify risk factors, and outline symptoms. We intend to provide guidance on how some people can cope with stressors while also giving advice for those who wish to help their suffering friends, colleagues, or peers. We hope to spark more conversation about this important topic that may affect us all—while also encouraging those who suffer (or have suffered) to share their stories and serve as role models for those who feel they cannot speak.

Editor’s Note

This Editorial is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of qualified professionals or healthcare providers if affected by the issues discussed herein. Please note that this Editorial has received critical input from some researchers in the polymer community but not been peer-reviewed by experts in the field of mental health.

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This contribution discusses self-harm/suicidal ideation and mental illnesses. If you are in crisis, call your local emergency line (USA: 911) immediately. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 (USA) or use its webchat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat to speak with a trained counselor at any time. While we must acknowledge that many resources provided in this Editorial are focused on readership in the United States, helpguide.org ( 1 ) provides a comprehensive list of mental health helplines across the globe and sorted by country.

Please seek professional help from a health care provider or local university resources if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental illness that is disruptive to your/their quality of life (e.g., causing problems at work, at school, at home, or with friends/family) or if any of the symptoms and signs of mental illness resonate with your lived experiences and/or persist for long periods of time (especially after removal of negative stressors). Professional help can include a combination of therapy and medication, depending on your wants and needs. Our Editorial will not discuss medication and will only discuss a few specific types of therapy; there are many other paths available depending on the individual. We are in no way implying that practices to improve mental hygiene will cure mental illness.

We recognize the collective societal stigma about mental illness and treatment. This stigma has different fangs among those of varied backgrounds (e.g., race/nationality, socioeconomic status, location, age, etc.). Systemic challenges to improving mental health exist for many individuals but also our society as an entirety. Someone who must work multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet will struggle to focus on mental hygiene until nationwide societal inequalities have been addressed. As such, we recognize the Sisyphean (absurd) nature of individual action to rectify such systemic problems.

This Editorial serves as an attempt to highlight such issues of equity and inclusion. We aim to introduce vocabulary to describe shared experiences and to foster dialogue. We also wish to highlight the cruel optimism of individual solutions that are offered to address deeply rooted societal problems. By highlighting common stressors, we intend to increase awareness of how we—as faculty members, administrators, or students—sometimes unknowingly contribute to poor mental health. Even for those not affected on a personal level, this Editorial will hopefully improve empathy for those who suffer and—ideally—change the way many of us to do things to prioritize people before papers and respect before proposal deadlines.

This Editorial is motivated by the personal experiences of the authors. As a community, we would benefit from more open discussions of experiences and struggles to share our stories and normalize a conversation about our mental health. We consulted with mental health experts and collected invaluable feedback from many faculty and students from diverse backgrounds and academic fields. We wish to acknowledge their contributions here and list their names in the Acknowledgments.

Introduction

Imagine this: You excel at chemistry. Even before graduating with your bachelor’s, you teach a senior course at your college. You begin publishing as an undergraduate and proceed to earn the most prestigious awards offered by your university during grad school. You defend your dissertation and land a professorship before leaving academia for one of the leading plastics companies on the globe. Your scientific breakthroughs lead to your election to the National Academy of Sciences —as the first industrial organic chemist. Unbeknownst to you, the materials you develop will soon be used by nearly everybody in the world—every—single—day. You are recently married and expecting the arrival of your daughter, Jane.

This is the story of Wallace Hume Carothers ( Figure ​ Figure2 2 ). 3 The inventor of Nylon and the great mind behind the established theory of step-growth polymerization. Wallace Carothers took his life, having suffered from depression for many years.

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Wallace Hume Carothers (April 27, 1896–April 29, 1937). Reprinted with permission from ref ( 2 ). Copyright 2017 American Chemical Society.

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History is full of prominent scientists who suffered from mental illness, including Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Pauli, David Bohm, and Ludwig Boltzmann. 4 Many more individual stories remain unnoticed. It is vital for our community to promote more open communication and our role models to show vulnerability. Taking the lead and opening up about our struggles is of high importance, especially in a culture that leans toward blaming the individual for societal problems.

Mental health in our society is declining. According to a 2020 report by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 5 nearly 53 million U.S. Americans (21% of all adults) suffer from, or experience, some form of mental illness. The reported prevalence of any mental illness, according to this survey, was highest for adults reporting two or more races/ethnicities; it was also higher for female respondents than for male respondents. 5 The LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected: teenagers are six times more likely to experience depression than non-LGBTQ+ identifying teens, and nearly half of all transgender adults report thoughts of suicide. 6 A growing percentage of adolescents in the United States live with major depression. The prevalence of mental illness is highest (31%) for those younger than 25 years (67% of college students). 7 Ages 26–49 show the second-largest fraction affected (25%). 5 Graduate students are “ more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population ” with 41% of students showing signs of anxiety and 39% moderate to severe depression. 8 Alarmingly, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10–14 and 25–34, and one third of those between 15 and 24. 9 Despite the gravity of these statistics, only 1 in 3 adolescents or young adults with major depressive disorder receive treatment–even in states with the greatest access to mental health services. 10 COVID-19 has exacerbated this crisis by adding additional stressors and increasing social isolation 11 —again more so for female students, historically excluded groups, or those with disabilities. 11 , 12

Other authors have recognized and described this mental health crisis, specifically focusing on the academic world: students, trainees, and faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines (STEM). 8 , 13 Here, our goal moves beyond highlighting statistics. We intend to outline symptoms and suggest practices that may support good mental health.

Mental Illnesses: Risk Factors and Symptoms

We will first discuss specific mental illnesses that are common in STEM academia: 8 , 14 depression and anxiety. We will also discuss burnout, which is technically classified as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization (WHO) and not a mental illness. 15 We highlight prevailing symptoms and signs (see Figure ​ Figure3 3 ), contributing risk factors, and stressors. These are not exhaustive lists and may not apply to everyone equally—albeit, as outlined above, underrepresented groups are generally disproportionately affected.

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Warning signs for any mental illness .

Depressive episodes are described as feelings of sadness, irritability, or emptiness. Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism often coincide with a loss of pleasure (anhedonia) or interest in activities, for most of the day, nearly every day, for extended periods of time. 16 , 17

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Poor concentration, feelings of excessive guilt or worthlessness, hopelessness about the future, thoughts about dying or killing oneself (the authors would like to highlight passive suicidal ideation: a fixation on “not existing” rather than killing oneself), disrupted sleep, changes in appetite or weight, disinterest in personal hygiene, and feeling especially tired or low in energy are further symptoms. The outcome is often difficulty in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, and/or other important areas of functioning. Causes and risk factors for depression include trauma, stress, and external life events (vide infra), as well as biological (brain chemistry) and genetic nature. 16 , 17

Anxiety is an umbrella term that is characterized by excessive and difficult-to-control worry about a variety of life situations; “excessive” here indicates disproportionately severe relative to the impact of the situation. Included are social anxiety disorder, phobias, certain obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), panic, and generalized anxiety disorders. Many of these have specific triggers or are focused on grouped worries. For example, social anxiety can surface intrusive thoughts of social awkwardness or reliving self-perceived faults in social interactions. Anxiety can manifest both physical and emotional symptoms. Restlessness, shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, sweating, digestive/bowel dysfunction, and headaches or migraines are common examples of the former. Emotional symptoms can include unexplained feelings of distress or dread, fatigue, inability to concentrate, sleep disturbance, and irritability. 18 − 22

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Anxiety generally also includes overthinking future events and developing solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes. Difficulty handling uncertainty and indecisiveness are also hallmarks; whether because of a fear of making the wrong decision or fear of making decisions at all. Causes and risk factors include brain chemistry or genetics. Differences in foundational experiences, especially distress or nervousness about new situations during childhood, can also result in persistent heightened responses to perceived threats.

Burnout is exhaustion characterized by excessive prolonged emotional, physical, and/or mental stress. Unlike depression and anxiety disorders, burnout is not a mental illness and not a medically diagnosable condition. Rather, burnout has been officially classified as an “occupational phenomenon” in 2019, 15 and is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced efficacy. 24 It is a manifestation of prolonged stress because of one’s job or, if one is a student, due to school.

Despite not being considered a mental illness, we include burnout here as it is increasingly recognized, affects many in STEM academia, and manifests symptoms like depression and anxiety. Symptoms include lack of energy, hopelessness, cynicism, a negative outlook on life, resent, and feeling overwhelmed. Physical symptoms can include suppression of the immune system and disproportionately elevated heart rate. 25 − 27 “ The imbalance of effort and reward can lead to increased cynicism in students, or a negative attitude toward schoolwork. It can lead to increased emotional exhaustion, such as feeling drained from academics. Finally, it can lead to decreased efficacy as a student, or feeling less competent in one’s ability to complete schoolwork .” 28 Effective treatments for burnout are an active area of research. The current theory involves developing a healthy workplace framework by examining the misaligned or misfit relationship between an individual and their occupational environment. 29

Stressors and Risk Factors for Worsening Mental Health

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress is the body’s emotional, physical, or behavioral response to environmental change. 30 Some amount of stress can actually be beneficial for performance, 31 yet the accumulation of too much stress (e.g., homework deadlines, upcoming exams, and oral presentations) can be harmful, even if associated with a positive event (e.g., graduation, invited talk, and a sports competition). Chronic or acute stressful experiences can also have significant impacts. Dr. Nadine Harris—former Surgeon General of California—outlined the effect of lingering or suppressed trauma on the mind and body in her pediatric research, 32 and highlighted the importance of healing long-term effects of adversity: “ Imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear. Immediately your brain sends a bunch of signals (...) ‘Release stress hormones! Adrenaline! Cortisol!’ So your heart starts to pound, your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you are ready to either fight the bear or run from the bear .” According to Dr. Harris’ research, consistent exposure to stress over prolonged times results in a dysregulated stress response. “ When you put a kid who had experienced adversity in an MRI machine, you could see measurable changes to the brain structures.” 32 This “living with the bear” has been connected to significantly increased risk of mental health disorders, but also heart disease and cancer, notably often not noticeable until advanced ages. Fortunately for those who have suffered such trauma, many effects can be reversed through “synaptic plasticity,” i.e., sleep, exercise, nutrition, meditation, and healthy relationships. Nevertheless, it is important to note that long-term repression of dormant past trauma (e.g., by diving deep into work, school, or hobbies) is often a mere distraction that provides limited (if any) long-term relief. The high stress environment of STEM and its publish or perish culture can trigger and worsen trauma or distract us from realizing that past trauma more significantly impacts our behavior than we notice.

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Postevent Blues

Even positive and joyfully anticipated events can bring negativity. The post-event-blues , or letdown effect , describe the mental crash that often occurs following major accomplishments or positive life events. 33 − 35 Often unexpectedly, physical and emotional fatigue sets in, triggering a questioning of purpose, and possibly even a spiraling into clinical depression. Events that fall into this category are often those generally accepted as positive: a wedding, finishing a marathon, submitting your first scientific manuscript, winning a postdoctoral fellowship, accepting a new faculty position, or retirement. We venture outside of the academic world to highlight two examples: post-Olympics depression. Michael Phelps 36 and Simone Biles 37 —two “greatest of all time” athletes—have begun openly discussing their mental health. 38 For students, an important exam, an on-site job interview, or submitting their dissertation can have similar effects as prolonged training and competition as an athlete.

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Loneliness and Lack of Community

Moving to attend college is becoming the norm. In 2020, 4 in 10 U.S. Americans moved away from home to obtain higher education. Nearly a third of all newly admitted students relocated to a different state, 39 if not even a different country. While this can be exciting for some, it can be daunting for others. For postdocs, new faculty members, or young professionals, the academic path can often limit chances to put down roots by promoting a lifestyle that requires frequent relocation. Moving is inherently challenging and social isolation and disconnection from natural environments in cities 40 are both risk factors for mental health—especially for introverts. 41 Maybe surprisingly, a sense of isolation and acute loneliness was actually correlated to cause similar stress levels as physical attacks. 42 U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy describes loneliness as a silent pandemic and highlights the systemic causes of loneliness and its increasingly negative implications. 43

Additional Stressors

The APA has surveyed graduate students and found that 60% of students report academic pressures, financial debt, or overall anxiety as significant stressors. 44 Poor work/school–life balance (59%), family issues (45%), and burnout (38%) also make attending college challenging outside of the classroom or lab. As a result of these and many other stressors, students may isolate themselves, give up easily when frustrated, react with strong emotions (e.g., anger, hostility), or adopt new and negative coping mechanisms. 45

STEM-Specific Culture

Particularly in STEM fields, there can be a culture of this is supposed to be hard . It can often be challenging for students and early career academics to recognize inappropriate levels of stress. This can lead to self-doubt about something being “supposed” to be hard and whether the levels of stress and sacrifice are normal, appropriate, and, in fact, necessary. The line between being “challenged” and “suffering” becomes blurred and can prevent those affected from seeking out necessary guidance and help. The “ suffering Olympics ” is another phrase that evokes the unhealthy culture of bragging about lack of sleep and working hours/busy-ness. Not having the time to grab coffee has become a status symbol, 46 , 47 despite increasing evidence that lack of work/life balance negatively affects our mental health. The “ Why is this class required? ” question can become daunting and lead to a perceived loss of agency and purpose, 48 as can the “ why? ”—especially for fundamental researchers. A perceived imbalance between effort and reward also affects our health. 49 For example, putting hour after hour into scientific articles to receive negative feedback. Destructive peer evaluations appear to always come from “Reviewer 2”—an almost comical trend that has become the subject of many memes throughout the scientific community. 50 Many feel a need to drop their hobbies to make room for the constant onslaught of homework, exam, or project deadlines, leaving little free for many to enjoy a calming breath of fresh air or walk in nature—despite its proven positive effects on mental health (vide infra). The offered solutions to these systemic issues are often based on cruel optimism: it is relayed to the individual to work harder and study more. Even as graduation approaches, insecurities about the professional future and a daunting and important decision about what comes next is scary, not even mentioning the previously outlined post-event-blues that are looming on the horizon.

Mental Hygiene: How Can You Take Care of Yourself?

The systemic deprioritization of mental health is difficult to address by individual action. Such a concept of “bootstrapping” oneself into better mental health places undue agency and blame on those who are suffering, without addressing the underlying social and cultural structures and causes. Nevertheless, there is research to suggest that certain individual actions can support you in managing your mental health. As Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher Dr. Viktor Frankel writes in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning :

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If you are suffering, try to be kind to yourself during this time. Try to imagine what you would say to your best friend if they were in your shoes: offer yourself the same grace and compassion. Be kind to yourself and recognize that sometimes activation barriers may feel insurmountable. The activities outlined below (see Figure ​ Figure4 4 ) may improve your mood and your mental hygiene. Do what you can as you can. Other things that may help:

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Some recommended practices to improve mental hygiene.

Talk It Out: Consider Therapy

Different types of therapy in the United States are facilitated by mental health professionals (counselors, social workers, psychologists):

  • Psychotherapy ( 51 )—a broad term for treatment techniques to help someone identify and alter troubling thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy ( 51 , 52 )—an evidence-based therapy focused on helping someone identify and reprogram inaccurate and harmful automatic thoughts (e.g., low evaluation of one’s abilities). It can also include exposure therapy.
  • Interpersonal therapy ( 52 )—an evidence-based therapy that examines the connection between mood and interpersonal functioning and relationships.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy ( 53 )—a form of cognitive behavioral therapy for individuals who experience emotions very intensely.
  • Group therapy ( 54 )—groups of patients with one (or more) mental health professionals designed to target specific problems by both talking and listening. Groups can also sometimes act as sounding boards and support networks.

There are many challenges to obtaining professional help and/or therapy, including long wait times, expense, and difficulty finding a therapist you “click” with. 48 , 49 Such challenges can feel insurmountable when you are already struggling. Consider asking a friend to help you get organized and make phone calls. Many university campuses have counseling services with free sessions for students. Your general practitioner, health insurance provider directories, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness ( www.nami.org ) may be able to provide resources and/or help with initial discussions and referrals. For readers outside the United States, https://www.helpguide.org/find-help.htm provides a comprehensive by-country overview of mental health resources.

Be Present and Aware: Meditation and Mindfulness

There is increasing scientific evidence that mindfulness and certain meditation practices can improve mental and physical health. 55 , 56 Mindfulness and meditation practices focus on being present in the moment and your current experiences, rather than allowing errant thoughts to distract your attention. The goal is to experience your thoughts and feelings without passing judgment on them. Apps like Calm, Headspace , or Healthy Minds (free) can provide guided meditations of varying lengths. There are also many free guided meditations on YouTube. Several books are great references to start your practice. 57 Mindfulness practice does not necessarily require sitting still and breathing deeply. It can be as simple as observing the textures, temperatures, and substances as you wash dishes. When your attention wanders, gently guide it back to experiencing the task at hand. There are many activities that have similar “meditative” benefits: anything that is all-encompassing and requires your entire attention: running, hiking, and various artistic outlets are good examples.

Let Words Move You: Read and Reflect

Reading has many positive effects—reducing stress, building vocabulary and knowledge, and expanding our horizons. 58 Often overlooked are the benefits on our mental and emotional well-being. Many great philosophical minds have discussed the purpose and meaning of life. Reading how your feelings and problems have troubled others for centuries can provide support and comfort. You are not alone. Reading and educating yourself about the underlying causes for how you feel can also have healing powers. 59 Reading captures your attention to a different degree than watching a show or movie and allows you to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. Reading fiction has indeed been found to increase empathy, 60 social skills, and interpersonal understandings. 61 , 62 “ Bibliotherapy ” or “ reading therapy ” are structured reading programs run by clinics, libraries, or schools that benefit recovery or support people with mental health challenges. 63 Bibliotherapy resources in the United States can be found on the website of the American Library Association ( ala.org ). Generally, consider paperbacks and hardcovers over screen reading 30 to improve comprehension and avoid blue light (disturbs sleep cycles) or possible distractions from electronic devices.

Explore: Experience the Outdoors

You do not have to climb Mt. Everest. Only a few minutes of walking per day can boost your mood. 64 Find nature if you can. Immersing yourself in a green space, an arboretum, or a forest has numerous benefits. 40 , 65 It reduces depression, anger, and aggressiveness. It lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and level of stress hormones faster than urban landscapes can. “ Forest bathing ” or hiking can help you regain the sense of agency and accomplishment that is often missing for those suffering from mental illness. As you escape the bustling city, try to disconnect from your external stressors. Leave your phone at home or turn it to airplane mode, turn off your music, and let your mind wander without distraction. Allow your subconscious to process your challenges and experiences and exhibit healing powers while also improving your creativity.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

Your physical and mental health are inherently connected. 66 Make it your goal to reinforce habits that are healthy for your body. This includes physical activity and rest, but also your diet and consumption behavior of legal stimulants. Focus on maximizing the intake of whole foods, reduce fat and refined sugar intake, avoid drinking alcohol, consuming nicotine, or taking drugs (including medications not prescribed for you). 67 − 70

Move: Healthy Body–Healthy Mind

There is a measurable connection between physical activity and emotional health. 71 Physical exercise, in particular engaging team sports that build a sense of community 72 and resistance training provide considerable benefits. “ Lifting gave me a sense of agency. It gave me a sense of control ” 73 —control that often goes awry during challenging mental health episodes. 73 Sustained cardiovascular exercise is also correlated to decreased anxiety and reduced Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. 74 It is important to note however that excessive physical activity ( overtraining syndrome ) can itself lead to sleep disturbances, irritability, emotional imbalance—and even depression and anxiety. 75 Research estimates an optimal threshold of 2.5–7.5 h of weekly physical activity to maximize mental health benefits without risk of overtraining. 71 Just as physical health and well-being are key components for mental health, so are recovery and sleep. 75

Sleep: Give Yourself the Rest You Need

The seemingly endless workload for students (and faculty) can be correlated with rising anxiety levels, depression, and increasing sleep disturbances. 76 , 77 A vicious cycle ensues. Anxiety is also worsened by lack of sleep, which, in turn, disturbs subsequent nights’ sleep. Both quantity—an average of 7 h nightly has proven benefits—and quality of sleep are critical for our well-being. 67 , 68 , 78 , 79 Some science-backed ideas to improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Try to establish a regular bedtime routine. Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. 80
  • Consider a warm bath, meditation, 81 yoga routines, 82 or stretching to help you fall asleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool at temperatures between 60 and 67 °F (15 and 19 °C). 83
  • Teach your brain that your bed is only for sleep (and sexual activity). Do not allow your mind to associate your bed with anxiously ruminating over tomorrow’s tasks or scrolling social media. 84
  • Limit screen/device time in the hour before bed. Blue screen light suppresses melatonin production 85 and interferes with your circadian rhythms. 86 Even if you use blue-light filters, an upsetting e-mail, deadline reminder, or social media post can heighten your awareness and keep you awake.
  • Limit alcohol consumption near bedtime. The proverbial nightcap may make you feel like it is easier to fall asleep, but alcohol causes sleep to be light and of poor quality. 87

Feel the Rhythm: Play or Listen to Music

Both listening to and making music have been established to influence mental health. 88 As humans, we are capable of both interpreting music to detect emotions, but we are also wired to be emotionally affected by it. 89 , 90 As such, upbeat and happy music can elicit happiness, while sad music may trigger melancholy. 91 , 92 It is important to note that this is highly individual and can have contrasting effects. Some studies indeed show a worsening of mood for listeners of sad music, 93 − 95 but melancholic genres can also help reflect and offer comfort for others. 96 , 97 Making music is generally considered to enhance both personal well-being and social connectedness. 88 Playing an instrument or beginning music lessons can provide valuable and welcome distractions from problems. 98 , 99 If you suffer from performance anxiety, refraining from audiences and keeping music-making, singing, or song-writing as an individual or small-group hobby is a viable option. 100 − 102

Connect with Friends and Colleagues

Social interactions and norms have changed rapidly. Through advances in, and accessibility of, technology, social interactions are no longer restricted by time and place. Rather than communicating primarily with those in local geographical spaces, social media and social networking sites now provide modern town squares with sometimes unclear norms of social behavior. 103 Digital platforms can allow us to stay connected to existing friends and colleagues or to meet new ones. However, smartphones and internet access have also been correlated to increases in loneliness, 104 , 105 in part, because of the lower quality of digital communication compared to in-person interactions. In addition, smart phones and digital media may heighten fear of missing out (or being excluded), can distract during in-person interactions, or can be used to ignore people by looking at one’s phone (phubbing). 106 , 107 While there are undoubtedly advantages of social media for our mental well-being 108 (e.g., through support networks), there are many correlated negative impacts: 109 declining well-being, 110 worsening sleep and lower self-esteem, 111 increasing depression, 112 − 115 anxiety, 111 , 113 , 116 and suicide rates. 117 The research on both negative and positive effects of smart phone use on psychological well-being and mental health is ongoing. 118 − 120

Mental hygiene involves being aware of these trends and critically considering social media use. If you spend 20 min a day only using social media, starting at the age of 16 and until you turn 65, you will have spent more than an entire year of your life looking at your phone . This is a shocking underestimate, as recent consumer data 115 exceeds this example (63 and 49 min for women and men, respectively) 121 Much of this time you will have spent on scrolling through emotionally triggering and addictive videos, 122 #livingmybestlife hashtags, or your someone who broke your heart living their new life.

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For social media posts, but also more generally, it is also important to realize the differences between internal and external motivation. 123 If you are internally motivated, you do things because they give you joy. You explore your surroundings, bring your camera, and pursue art for your own creative fulfilment. The externally motivated photographer, in contrast, may focus on positive feedback from the number of likes on a posted photograph, eventually leading to the possibility of a disappointing disconnect between what you think is a good photo and what your followers like.

Improve your mental health by focusing on high quality personal interactions to mitigate social isolation and loneliness: 124 online ties can supplement face-to-face connection, and online communication can reinforce offline friendships. Rather than mindlessly scrolling through content, consider ways to connect with people in real life. Join a club, try group exercise, pick up a pottery class!

How Can I Help Someone Who Is Suffering?

We outlined several warning signs of those who may be struggling: lack of concern regarding personal hygiene, changes in weight or appetite, irritability, energy levels, sleeping patterns, or alcohol consumption. 125 Mood changes, anxiety, and aggressive behavior are also noticeable—as are comments made in passing or in jest about death or dying. In social circles, detachment from people and activities can also be a warning sign. What can you do to help your friend, colleague, or student in distress (see Figure ​ Figure5 5 )? 17 , 30 , 126 Offer help and gently ask if there is anything of concern: “ I notice you seem stressed (or worried or distracted) lately. Is there something I can help you work through? ” 30

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Suggestions on how to help a friend/colleague/student suffering from mental health disorders.

Before You Try to Help, Take a Minute

One crucial consideration is the difference between intention and impact: you may say something that you intend to be supportive but that may have negative (and potentially serious) impacts. Such unsupportive (in terms of impact) social interactions have been linked to depression and overall psychological distress in response to a stressor. 127 Upsetting responses include: 127 distancing (changing the subject), bumbling (seeming uncomfortable or afraid to say the wrong thing), minimizing (“ it could be worse ,” “ look on the bright side ,” “ get over it ”), and blaming (“ I told you so ”).

Believe the words and experiences that someone conveys to you. Now is not the time to play devil’s advocate, a theoretical mental exercise for you, but a painful dismissal of lived experiences. Do not say things like “ Snap out of it ” or “ You just need to be better at dealing with it .” Avoid making judgements or expressing displeasure, and do not gossip about their behavior. Speak in private and treat your conversations as confidential. Be understanding and share vulnerability. Harness your empathy: “ That sounds really tough. ” Focus on listening and not on telling them how they should feel.

Helping a friend or a colleague means listening and engaging supportively. Rather than giving medical advice or acting like a counselor, 128 validate your friend’s feelings and encourage them to share and talk. 129 In other words, be an active-empathic listener! 130

Engage and Support

“ I’m here .” Offer support, understanding, patience, and encouragement. Rather than offering blanket support (“ How can I help you? ”), offer specific actionable suggestions (“ Let’s wash your dishes together ”). Combat the hopelessness that depression radiates and show empathy: “ This isn’t an ending. You can get through this .” Help them seek out professional help if they are open to it. Try to reignite their spark for their favorite activities—but understand (and respect) that even the easiest activities may feel impossible.

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Ask and Listen

Check in regularly. Rather than: “ let me know what I can do to help ,” reach out. Listen with empathy and without judgment if they feel ready to share. Otherwise, be present with them—even in silence. Show that you are there to support them and they are not alone: “ There’s nothing you can say to me that will send me away from you .” Throughout everything you do, be mindful of the power of your own words.

Take Care of Yourself

It is great to reach out and help, but even if someone is willing to acknowledge they are struggling, they may be unwilling to seek treatment or make changes to their behavior. Be patient and do not forget your own mental health and emotional energy. 131

A Comment on Self-Harm and Those in Acute Crisis

Understanding how to behave with an individual in acute crisis is challenging to navigate. We refer you to a pamphlet from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. ( 123 ) However, we also encourage you to ask for help from your colleagues or from local resources that are available to you. Many U.S. universities now have a Red Folder (based on the Red Folder Initiative from the University of California) to provide guidance on how to recognize and effectively respond to others in distress. 132 Comparable resources exist at institutions across the globe, and we encourage you to learn about and leverage resources available at your workplace.

Research has demonstrated that there is no correlation between increased suicide rates and at-risk individuals being asked about thoughts of killing themselves. ( 133 ) As psychologist Karen Young outlines: “ There’s a misconception that discussing suicide might plant the idea, but it just doesn’t work like this. If someone is contemplating suicide, the idea will already be there. If they aren’t, talking about it won’t put the idea into their mind. Suicide isn’t caused by asking the question. Never has been.” 125 Many faculty and staff at universities are mandatory reporters. If someone shares their intention to kill themselves, you must report this to emergency services. We recommend being direct about this during your conversations if the student seems poised to reveal something.

The concept of “cruel optimism” refers to simple upbeat individual solutions that are offered to us address problems deeply rooted in our society. It is considered your responsibility to exercise and offset decreasing food quality and huge portion sizes that are being offered 134 —only to strive for an unrealistic body image that is portrayed to you by social media influencers. 135 , 136 It is your responsibility to turn off your phone—despite the entire monetary concept of major media outlets being to capture your attention. It is called cruel optimism because the problem should not be there—yet it is commonly considered your individual responsibility to address it—and it is considered as easy as it is being suggested.

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Academia is full of cruel optimism. The “publish or perish” culture and the common assumption that getting a higher degree “should be hard” are two of many factors that can lead to students (and faculty) experiencing mental health disorders or refer to taking medication to enhance performance and manage stress.

As a community, we need to find ways to remove mental health stigma from the individual, have open discussions about systematic errors that promote health issues, and begin taking responsibility as a collective. There is a reason that mental health issues and attention deficit disorders are most prominent in capitalistic cultures that promote excessive working hours, idealize unrealistic body images, and distract us from meaningful activities through benign activities. It is not your job to fix yourself—it is our job, as a collective, to improve the system. Those of us who are mentors and authority figures can help by modeling good mental hygiene practices.

We—as a society—need to regain our own agency and values. We need to not sit next to each other mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, but actually connect with our peers and friends through meaningful conversation. We need to make sure students, postdocs, and young faculty are heard and supported by their mentors. We need to appeal Reviewer 2’s comments if they make no sense—and as editors ensure we actively engage with authors and rebuttals. We need to question if our curriculum and our means of delivery make sense—not just push our students because “We had to do it too.”

And we need to embrace, understand, and support those who experience mental health issues. We cannot stress this strongly enough: seeking help is not a sign of weakness. You have value and worth beyond your productivity.

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Resources to Find Help

Many of the resources outlined are available in the United States. An exhaustive by-country list for these resources is beyond the scope of this Editorial, but similar programs exist in many countries. We would like to refer the international community to https://www.helpguide.org/find-help.htm as a first, important step to find guidance.

  • If you are in immediate crisis or think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
  • If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 h a day, 7 days a week in the United States.
  • Because text can feel more secure, there is also a webchat ( 988lifeline.org/chat/ ) and a crisis text line (Text HOME to 741741) to speak with a skilled, trained counselor at any time.
  • The website of the American Psychological Association (APA) offers valuable resources if you are in distress under apa.org/topics/crisis-hotlines as well as abilities to connect to professional help from a psychologist or counselor (sorted by state).
  • Health insurance provider directories provide lists of mental health professionals. Your general practitioner or family doctor may also be able to help with initial discussions and providing referrals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has links to other resources at www.nami.org .
  • Many university campuses have counseling services with a specified number of free sessions for students that we encourage you to learn about. In recent years, the Red Folder Initiative has gained momentum as a concrete, highly visible, and helpful resource for universities to provide guidance to students and faculty members in identifying and dealing with distress.
  • Finally, for further reading and information, we would like to refer you to resources from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 137 the World Health Organization (WHO), 138 and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 17

Acknowledgments

We express our sincere gratitude for invaluable feedback about this topic and article from many STEM scientists from various backgrounds and at various stages in their career. In alphabetical order: Stephanie Butler Velegol, Nicholas Cross, Sarah Freeburne, Jan Genzer, Enrique Gomez, Zachary Hudson, Whitney Loo, Patricia Pereira, Themis Matsoukas, Scott Milner, Chinedum Osuji, Cole Thomas, Bryan Vogt, and Wanying Xie.

Author Contributions

§ Christian W. Pester and Gina Noh contributed equally to this paper. Credit: Andi Fu validation (supporting).

Views expressed in this editorial are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the ACS.

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

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Blog The Education Hub

https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2024/03/14/how-supporting-university-students-mental-health/

How we’re supporting university students with their mental health

studies on homework and mental health

Going to university is a fun and exciting time for most students – but it comes with unique challenges and stresses. We believe that all students’ mental health and wellbeing should be properly supported during their time at university.

There is a range of mental health support available to students, from online mental health and wellbeing platform Student Space to counselling and one-to-one support. Here’s what you need to know.

What action are you taking to support students’ mental health?

Students struggling with their mental health can access  Student Space , a mental health and wellbeing hub supporting students.

Funded by £3.6 million from the Office for Students (OfS), Student Space provides dedicated one-to-one text and web chat support services. It’s also an online platform providing vital mental health and wellbeing resources.

This service is part of the £15 million we have asked the OfS to allocate towards student mental health in 2023/2024. This funding will also be used to give additional support for those making the transition from school or college to university, in particular through counselling services.

It will also be used to address any challenges that students may face in accessing local support services through their university, by establishing better partnerships between universities and local NHS services.

To ensure all the information is readily available for students and young people, we have put together some useful links and sources of mental health support so that everyone can get the advice and help they need. This information is available  here .

We are also asking universities to take a whole university approach to mental health by setting a target for all universities to sign up to the  University Mental Health Charter Programme by September 2024.

To support this target t he Office for Students ( OfS ) is providing £400,000 additional funding to Student Minds to support expansion of the Programme . You can read more about it on the OfS website . 

What is the University Mental Health Charter Programme? 

Universities that are part of the University Mental Health Charter programme will be supported to make cultural change so that all aspects of university life promote and support mental health.

Both students and staff will benefit from better support for their mental health and wellbeing as a result.

The Charter Award is given to the universities that are part of the Programme members which demonstrate excellent practice in supporting student mental health.

What is the Department doing to reduce suicides at universities?

Every student death is a tragedy and preventing suicide and self-harm in our student populations is a key priority.

So that students are better protected we have asked universities to fully implement best practice including the  Suicide Safer Universities  guidance, led by Universities UUK and Papyrus.

This includes guidance for universities on sharing information with family and friends in the event of a mental health crisis and practical advice on compassionate, confident, and timely support when a tragedy occurs.

Understanding student suicide data and risk factors is central to informing preventative action, which is why we have worked with the Office for National Statistics, which has published updated  data and analysis .

We appointed Professor Edward Peck as Higher Education Student Support Champion in May 2022 for a two-year term and extended the appointment for another year until 31 May 2025 . Professor Peck has been speaking to bereaved parents to understand where improvements can be made.    

To deliver better practice in mental health support across the higher education sector Professor Peck is chairing a Higher Education Mental Health Implementation Taskforce, which will include bereaved parents, students, mental health experts, charities and sector representatives.

It has been asked to deliver a report with a plan for better early identification of students at risk, a University Student Commitment on dealing with students sensitively on disciplinary issues, and a set of clear targets for improvements in practice by providers.

Its first stage report has been published outlining progress so far and setting out new areas of focus, including improving join up between higher education and NHS mental health services. It is due to publish a second stage report by July 2024.

We have also appointed the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) to carry out a National Review of Higher Education Suicides.

This will ensure that valuable lessons from past tragedies can be learnt to help us better protect students in future. Its findings report will be published by Spring 2025 outlining good practice and areas for improvement around suicide prevention in higher education.

Providers’ participation in the National Review of HE Suicides will be supported by the additional one-off £10m funding we have asked the OfS to allocate on mental health and hardship, which comes top of the £15 million already distributed this year on HE student mental health.

What should I do if I’m worried about a friend or family member at university?

We understand that helping a friend or family member with mental health issues can be difficult. It is important that students feel supported at this difficult time. There is support in place and people who are available to listen.

If for any reason you have cause to believe that someone you know is struggling with mental health and wellbeing issues at university, we recommend following NHS guidance .

Universities have support services in place for their students which can be accessed via their website, or by looking up your university on the  Student Space support pages .

You may also be interested in:

  • Mental health resources for children, students, parents, carers and school/college staff
  • What we are doing to improve the mental health of children and young people
  • Five things you didn’t know about mental health support in schools

Tags: Mental health , mental health resources , Office for Students , Pupil mental health , Universities UK , University , Wellbeing

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Home / Healthy Aging / The mental health benefits of nature: Spending time outdoors to refresh your mind

The mental health benefits of nature: Spending time outdoors to refresh your mind

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studies on homework and mental health

Like many others at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, I was suddenly working remotely, socially distancing from family and friends, and leaving the house only for trips to the grocery store. I craved the ability to get out and escape the overbearing presence screens had in my life.

That ‘ s when I discovered my love of camping. Weekend camping trips let me take advantage of the gorgeous freshwater springs, trails and nature preserves in my area.

I felt the difference almost immediately — out in the woods I wasn’t scrambling for my phone or thinking about work deadlines. My attention span seemed to lengthen and level out. I relaxed. I came home feeling rested and a little more cheerful, and these trips became a way to manage the stress of the pandemic.

Aside from a nice weekend getaway, what I was actually experiencing were the benefits of nature on my mental health — something researchers and healthcare providers have long noted.

“There are many studies that demonstrate how spending time in nature can improve mood, lower anxiety, and improve cognition and memory,” says Mayo Clinic nurse practitioner Jodie M. Smith, APRN., C.N.P., D.N.P., M.S.N. “Making time for nature is important in order for us to maintain resiliency and promote self-care in a world that demands a lot from us.”

Below, Smith discusses exactly why nature is so good for your mental health.

How does nature benefit mental health?

First and foremost, Smith says that nature can be an effective tool to manage stress .

“Stress stimulates our sympathetic nervous system , which is responsible for increasing our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar in order to react to a stimulus that is causing us stress,” says Smith.

And while not all stress is bad — for example, stress can motivate you to meet a work deadline or keep an eye on your kids at the pool — prolonged or chronic exposure to stress can chip away at your emotional and mental well-being.

But nature may be able to combat stress and its effects. For example, one study showed that exposure to nature can regulate the sympathetic nervous system in as little as five minutes.

“This means that we can get an almost immediate benefit from stepping outside,” says Smith. And doing so on a recurrent basis may prevent cumulative effects from stress, which could mean a lower risk for chronic disease, illness and mortality .”

In addition to alleviating stress, Smith says research indicates that exposure to nature can be an effective coping strategy for those with chronic mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) .

Prolonged immersion in nature and nature-based therapy programs have shown promise as a way of managing PTSD.

Even for those without serious mental health conditions, nature may help you manage emotions like loneliness , irritability and possibly even road rage .

Finally, there is evidence that nature exposure is associated with better cognitive function — like memory, attention, creativity and sleep quality .

But perhaps the best part is that nature makes it easy to soak in these benefits.

“Being present in nature doesn’t ask or require anything of us, so it frees up our mind to think more deeply and clearly about things,” says Smith.

Next time you’re outside, take a moment to listen, touch, smell. Notice the environment around you and simply be present.

What if I live in the city without much nature around?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 55% of people live in urban areas — a number that is expected to rise to 68% by 2050. Increasing urbanization can bring unique health challenges, as WHO estimates that the majority of city-dwellers experience inadequate housing, transportation, sanitation and waste management, as well as low air quality. Combined with the lack of green space in many cities — or open, often walkable areas with plants, natural landscape and water — accessing nature isn’t always as simple as just going outside.

“Cities can be very energetic and exciting but also can contribute to both conscious and unconscious stress from the sensory overload and challenges of maneuvering in those spaces,” says Smith. “If you live in an urban environment, exploring to find even a small natural reprieve can be extremely beneficial.”

If you are unable to fully immerse yourself in nature — like by taking a weekend camping trip — you can still carve out opportunities in your area. This might look like finding a small park near your workplace, taking a moment to sit under a large tree, or taking the time to find a pond or body of water.

“Taking a purposeful five-minute break during the day to refresh your mind in this type of environment can provide a benefit and can be justified by knowing that we will feel better and more productive afterward,” says Smith.

Technology, too, represents a significant distraction — and barrier — to quality time outside and unplugged. Texts, email and social media require a lot of attention , which can take you out of the moment. Instead, Smith recommends leaving your phone behind when seeking green space.

“Slow down, go outside, notice what’s around you,” says Smith. “Listen to the birds and the wind and the crackling of the leaves under your feet, and you really will notice a benefit in your well-being.”

How can I interact with nature if I’m stuck inside all day?

In addition to simply spending more time outdoors, there are several strategies to get more green space into your daily life.

First, consider how you can enjoy nature even if you’re stuck inside. Although it’s not a replacement for fully immersive, outdoor green space, you can still engage your senses by listening to recorded bird songs or a rainstorm instead of music, bringing lush plants into your home and office, decorating with pictures of natural beauty, or using a diffuser with natural scents.

“(These strategies) can improve relaxation and work satisfaction through the same mechanisms that being outdoors can provide,” says Smith.

On a wider scale, you may consider working with your neighbors to plan a community garden, joining or coordinating a walking or bird watching club, and advocating for high-quality parks and environmental centers in your town or city.

How much nature do I need?

Some research suggests that even very quick visits outdoors can be beneficial. But there are indications that certain amounts and types of outdoor time may have greater impacts on well-being. A 2021 study , for example, found that the 20- to 90-minute sessions in nature were most beneficial for mental health, with gardening, nature-based therapy and exercise in green spaces being the most effective for adults.

One large survey found that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature — whether in one longer outing or in multiple smaller chunks of time — were more likely to positively describe their health and well-being than were people who spent no time in nature. If that seems unattainable, Smith recommends that you aim for 15 minutes each day.

“There are added benefits that can come from prolonged immersion, so each week try to spend an hour outside doing something you enjoy, and each month try to spend a half day [outside],” says Smith.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences

Why does a difficult childhood affect adult mental health, a recent study pulls apart genetic and environmental effects..

Posted March 11, 2024 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
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  • Research has tied adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to adult mental health.
  • These studies were not conclusive since correlation does not equal causation.
  • A new study from Sweden showed that genes, ACEs, and more general environmental variables likely play a role.

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Early in my career , I interned for a year at a state psychiatric hospital. The men and women I worked with were dealing with serious mental illness, including depression , schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder , as well as substance use disorders.

As I talked with many of these individuals, I heard horrifying stories about their childhoods; abuse, family violence, and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) were rampant. It wasn't hard to connect the dots between their early experiences and their current mental health struggles.

Separating Genetic and Environmental Effects

Many research studies have confirmed that a rough childhood is linked to greater risk for mental illness in adulthood. However, it is hard to know whether the ACEs themselves are the cause of the psychiatric issues later in life. It's possible that a third variable, such as shared genes, is to blame for both the adversity and the subsequent mental health challenges.

Source: Seth Gillihan

After all, commonly measured ACEs such as parental mental illness and substance use are themselves significantly tied to genetic factors. For this reason, what appears to be an effect of ACEs on mental health could in fact be caused by genetic factors that impact both the adverse experience (through the parent's genetic risk) and the child's mental health outcomes (see the figure).

In a similar way, more general aspects of the environment could be driving the ACE-mental health association. ACEs typically don't happen in a vacuum but are connected to longer-standing factors such as neighborhood crime rates or being raised by a highly critical parent.

It could be the case that these chronic forms of low-grade stress are more potent than the less frequent but more intense events that are usually measured in studies of ACEs.

Powerful New Study From Sweden

Researchers recently took advantage of the incredible health records in Sweden to explore the effects of ACEs on adult mental health ( Daníelsdóttir et al., 2024 ). They used a nationwide sample of more than 25,000 twins, which allowed them to separate the effects of shared genes, shared environments, and individual-specific ACEs such as physical neglect, emotional or sexual abuse , or hate crimes.

Adult mental health outcomes were measured by whether the participant had received after age 19 an inpatient or outpatient diagnosis of a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, or stress-related disorder. The study also measured depression symptoms during the past week as an indicator of current mental health.

Initial analyses showed that ACEs had a big impact on adult mental health. The effects were "dose-dependent," meaning that each additional ACE raised the risk for mental illness. According to the study, "Every additional ACE was associated with 52% greater odds of any psychiatric disorder," which held for both males and females.

Using Twin Pairs to Disentangle Cause and Correlation

The twin aspect of the study was key in separating the effects of ACEs from genetic and general environmental effects. Researchers zeroed in on twin pairs who were "discordant" on exposure to ACEs—that is, pairs in which one twin was exposed to a certain type of adverse experience and the other was not. They then re-analyzed the effects of ACEs on the risk for adult psychiatric diagnosis.

If ACEs had less of an effect on adult mental health outcomes among discordant twin pairs, this finding would suggest that it was not the ACE per se that was driving the effect. For example, imagine that one twin experienced physical neglect and the other did not, but both wound up with depression in adulthood. This result would indicate that it was not the neglect itself that caused the subsequent depression. Alternative explanations would include the twins' shared genes (100 percent in identical twins and 50 percent on average in non-identical twins) and shared aspects of their childhood environment that aren't captured by measures of ACEs (e.g., growing up in a high-stress neighborhood).

studies on homework and mental health

On the other hand, imagine that the effect of each additional ACE on mental health outcomes in these discordant twin pairs turned out to be about 52 percent, as in the initial analysis of all participants. This result would suggest that ACEs are, in fact, the cause of adult psychiatric outcomes since their effect is just as potent among sets of twins in which only one experienced the ACE.

Shared Genes and Environments Plus Childhood Adversity

Perhaps not surprisingly, the discordant twin pair analyses showed that ACEs still contributed significantly to adult mental health diagnoses. However, the effects were not as strong. In identical twins, the effect of each ACE raised the odds of having a psychiatric condition by 20 percent; for non-identical twins, the odds increased by 29 percent. Therefore, the effects of ACEs were approximately 40 to 60 percent lower than what they were among the full group of participants (52 percent).

These findings reveal that more general environmental conditions such as living in an impoverished school district played a role in adult mental health outcomes. Genetic predispositions might also drive part of the apparent effect of ACEs on psychiatric disorders after age 19.

The study authors note that their findings can't determine the relative contributions of genetics and general aspects of the childhood environment. Participants also reported their ACEs retrospectively as adults, so it is possible that "current mental health status influenced the reporting of ACEs." More research is needed to address these limitations.

For now, the takeaway is clear: A difficult childhood environment and genetic factors can contribute to mental illness in adulthood; when kids experience serious adverse experiences on top of these long-term risk factors, the likelihood of an adult psychiatric condition is even greater.

Daníelsdóttir, H. B., Aspelund, T., Shen, Q., Halldorsdottir, T., Jakobsdóttir, J., Song, H., ... & Valdimarsdóttir, U. A. (2024). Adverse childhood experiences and adult mental health outcomes. JAMA Psychiatry .

Seth J. Gillihan PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author specializing in mindful cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

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Understanding what emotional intelligence looks like and the steps needed to improve it could light a path to a more emotionally adept world.

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IMAGES

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  2. Mental Health Homework: At Home Mental Health Resources

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  3. The Mental Health Impact of Excessive Homework on Students

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  4. 9 ways students can work on their mental health on a weekly basis

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  5. How Does Homework Affect Students Mental Health

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  6. 10 Homework Benefits (Purpose & Facts)

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    March 10, 2014 Stanford research shows pitfalls of homework. A Stanford researcher found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress ...

  4. Addressing Student Mental Health Through the Lens of Homework Stress

    Keywords: homework, stress, mental health The outcomes of adolescent mental health is a threat to students' health and wellbeing, more so than it ever has been in the modern era. As of 2019, the CDC reported a nearly 40. percent increase in feelings of sadness or hopelessness over the last ten years, and similar.

  5. More than two hours of homework may be counterproductive, research

    Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor. • Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The ...

  6. Student stress and mental health during online learning: Potential for

    The increasing trend of studies on mental health problems during COVID-19 shows that all parties must be more serious in dealing with this outbreak . It can be concluded that all sectors must immediately adapt to their circumstances and needs, including education. The education system needs to be adjusted immediately so that mental health ...

  7. A Comprehensive Model of Homework in Cognitive Behavior Therapy

    Aaron T. Beck et al. had conducted various studies of cognitive therapy outcomes during this period, and the first clinician guide "Cognitive Therapy of Depression" emerged placing homework as a core and crucial vehicle of change.Beck's therapy was positioned as requiring a collaborative therapeutic relationship, whereby decisions about the techniques of therapy, including the techniques ...

  8. School educational models and child mental health among K-12 students

    The promotion of mental health among children and adolescents is a public health imperative worldwide, and schools have been proposed as the primary and targeted settings for mental health promotion for students in grades K-12. This review sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of key factors involved in models of school education ...

  9. Homework Struggles May Not Be a Behavior Problem

    Key points. Mental health challenges and neurodevelopmental differences directly affect children's ability to do homework. Understanding what difficulties are getting in the way—beyond the usual ...

  10. Is homework a necessary evil?

    In a review of studies published from 1987 to 2003, Cooper and his colleagues found that homework was linked to better test scores in high school and, to a lesser degree, in middle school. Yet they found only faint evidence that homework provided academic benefit in elementary school (Review of Educational Research, 2006).

  11. Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?

    That's problematic for physical and mental health and overall well-being. But the research shows that higher-income students get a lot more homework than lower-income kids. ... A majority of studies on homework's impact - 64% in one meta-study and 72% in another - showed that take home assignments were effective at improving academic ...

  12. Study tracks shifts in student mental health during college

    The study also provides among the first real-time accounts of how the coronavirus pandemic affected students' behavior and mental health. The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 resulted in long ...

  13. Health Hazards of Homework

    March 18, 2014 | Julie Greicius. Pediatrics. A new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and colleagues found that students in high-performing schools who did excessive hours of homework "experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives

  14. Homework, sleep insufficiency and adolescent neurobehavioral problems

    Our study has some advantages. First, to the best of our knowledge, using a long-term cohort design, this study is among the first to assess the longitudinal relationships among homework burdens, sleep and adolescent mental health among middle school students, with an extra focus on the effect-modification by sex.

  15. PDF THE EFFECTS OF HOMEWORK ON STUDENTS' SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL HEALTH A Thesis

    2015). The increase in academic pressure comes at a time when the prevalence of mental health conditions, namely depression and anxiety, are on the rise (American Psychological Association [APA], 2014). While the rise in mental health conditions and academic demands has been postulated upon in literature by looking at homework stress

  16. NIH Researchers Identify Brain Connections Associated With ADHD ...

    The study was led by researchers at NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Human Genome Research Institute. Luke Norman, Ph.D., a staff scientist in the NIMH Office of the Clinical Director, and colleagues analyzed brain images supplied by more than 8,000 youth with and without ADHD sourced from six different functional ...

  17. PDF Does Homework Work or Hurt? A Study on the Effects of Homework on

    A Study on the Effects of . Homework on Mental Health and Academic Performance . Ryan Scheb . Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School ... Keywords: homework, mental health, academic performance, high school F or as many years as students have been going to school, they have been coming home with

  18. Barriers Associated with the Implementation of Homework in Youth Mental

    Background Homework, or between-session practice of skills learned during therapy, is integral to effective youth mental health TREATMENTS. However, homework is often under-utilized by providers and patients due to many barriers, which might be mitigated via mHealth solutions. Methods Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with nationally certified trainers in Trauma Focused ...

  19. Workload and Mental Well-Being of Homeworkers

    This study shows that work-family conflict is negatively related to work engagement and mental well-being, thus supporting prior studies on work engagement 28,32,34 and employees' well-being 33,64 and extending those findings to homeworkers. Although other studies used different theoretical approaches, our results are also coherent with the ...

  20. School educational models and child mental health among K-12 students

    The promotion of mental health among children and adolescents is a public health imperative worldwide, and schools have been proposed as the primary and targeted settings for mental health promotion for students in grades K-12. This review sought to provide a comprehensive understanding of key factors involved in models of school education contributing to student mental health development ...

  21. New study may broaden the picture of the consequences of childhood

    A research team has examined the link between adverse childhood experiences and the risk of mental health problems later in life, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry.The researchers from ...

  22. When Teens Visit Doctors, Increasingly the Subject is Mental Health

    That was the conclusion of a new study that found that in 2019, 17 percent of outpatient doctor visits for patients ages 13 to 24 in the United States involved a behavioral or mental health ...

  23. When Is Homework Stressful? Its Effects on Students' Mental Health

    Lack of sleep. One of the most prevalent adverse effects of schoolwork is lack of sleep. The average student only gets about 5 hours of sleep per night since they stay up late to complete their homework, even though the body needs at least 7 hours of sleep every day. Lack of sleep has an impact on both mental and physical health.

  24. Is it time to get rid of homework? Mental health experts weigh in

    Emmy Kang, mental health counselor at Humantold , says studies have shown heavy workloads can be "detrimental" for students and cause a "big impact on their mental, physical and emotional health ...

  25. The relationship between homeworking during COVID-19 and both, mental

    Background As of March 2020, the UK public were instructed to work from home where possible and as a result, nearly half of those in employment did so during the following month. Pre-pandemic, around 5% of workers chose to work from home; it was often seen as advantageous, for example due to eliminating commuting time and increasing flexibility. However, homeworking also had negative ...

  26. On the Importance of Mental Health in STEM

    From homework to exams to proposal deadlines, STEM academia bears many stressors for students, faculty, and administrators. ... According to a 2020 report by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 5 nearly 53 million U.S. Americans (21% of all adults) suffer from, ... Some studies indeed show a worsening of mood for listeners of sad ...

  27. How we're supporting university students with their mental health

    Going to university is a fun and exciting time for most students - but it comes with unique challenges and stresses. We believe that all students' mental health and wellbeing should be properly supported during their time at university. There is a range of mental health support available to students, from online mental health and wellbeing platform Student Space to counselling and one-to ...

  28. Why Homework is Bad: Stress and Consequences

    In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of ...

  29. The mental health benefits of nature: Spending time outdoors to refresh

    But there are indications that certain amounts and types of outdoor time may have greater impacts on well-being. A 2021 study, for example, found that the 20- to 90-minute sessions in nature were most beneficial for mental health, with gardening, nature-based therapy and exercise in green spaces being the most effective for adults.

  30. Why Does a Difficult Childhood Affect Adult Mental Health?

    The study also measured depression symptoms during the past week as an indicator of current mental health. Initial analyses showed that ACEs had a big impact on adult mental health.