The Psychological Effects Caused by COVID-19 Quarantine on Students from Various Levels of Education.

Sofia Hunt

This essay aims to shed light on the consequences that social isolation has on citizens, particularly students, during COVID-19. In early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, many countries imposed a quarantine that was intended to protect citizens from the disease. The closing of schools, restaurants, attractions, and other establishments was implemented during this quarantine period, and people were required to stay home unless for necessary reasons. This quarantine canceled classes and other activities for students to engage in, causing an increased prevalence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Many students never received assistance during this time of distress, which is significant considering these issues may carry into adulthood. Research on information about this topic was done using the Lewis Library Database, where I gathered three peer-reviewed sources regarding social deprivation on various ages of students and its psychological effects. An additional source was obtained through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, documenting information on symptoms of COVID-19. I created a survey that I sent out to friends and other students at Lewis, where I obtained data from 32 eligible respondents concerning the prevalence of mental health symptoms during their time spent in social isolation.

Keywords: Psychology, Quarantine, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Mental Health 


In December 2019, a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan began to spread rapidly within China’s borders. This outbreak quickly spread to the rest of the world causing a pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that is a risk, particularly for the elderly and those with pre-existing physical ailments. The symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, body aches, congestion, cough, and fatigue (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022). Since covid has similar symptoms to the common cold and flu, it can be difficult to distinguish the two. This led to widespread panic and a worldwide effort to control the disease. To contain the illness, many countries imposed a national quarantine that required citizens to remain in their homes unless for essential reasons. This included shutting down schools and recreational settings, therefore diminishing opportunities for people to socialize. Unfortunately, the emotional impact this had on citizens is often overlooked. It has been seen in many surveys and reports that social isolation has negative consequences on mental health. Students especially have been negatively influenced psychologically by the deficiency of social interaction due to the imposed quarantine during COVID-19.

Preschool Children
Children between 3-6 years old are heavily influenced by their environment, and the deficiency of social situations in their daily lives can adversely affect their mental health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries required or restricted students to online learning devices. This meant that children no longer had access to in-person learning opportunities, therefore diminishing times with peers and teachers outside the household. Children are incredibly sensitive to abrupt changes in their routine and environment, and these alterations had a major impact on how they behaved and handled their emotions.

These behavioral changes in children were reported in the results of a study on preschool students in Shanghai China, as the researchers found that the most common behavior problems associated with preschoolers in quarantine were agitation, attachment issues, and inattentiveness (Ma et al. 2022). Children react negatively when they are faced with modifications in their schedule, and quarantine completely disrupted their sense of normalcy. Children spent significantly more time at home during quarantine, not getting the benefits of learning in an outside environment. No longer were the children able to collaborate with teachers and peers, which is a major component of the learning experience. Instead, they relied strictly on their devices to get their education. This cut out group activities, visual representations corresponding to the subject, and time for students to be physically active through means of PE or recess. The drastic alterations to their routine made many children feel stressed, resulting in them acting in abnormal or inappropriate ways such as being irritable and throwing temper tantrums.

Another major source of these behavioral issues is rooted in the stress of the parents. This is because children are aware of how their parents are feeling, and they can start to become anxious if their parents show signs of tension. The children also are not able to fully comprehend the purpose or meaning of the quarantine, and this can make them frustrated with their parents. Children also depend on their caregivers for many things, and they become hopeless when they are unable to intervene or support them. This causes them to act out and behave in ways they should not, since they do not have the coping mechanisms required to manage their stress effectively. They may become excessively clingy to their parents, throwing temper tantrums when they leave, not going to bed when they are told, or simply not feeling secure when they are alone. Some children, however, do the opposite, and they become aggressive toward their parents or siblings.

Distraction was another one of the most reported problems by parents in the study, as many found it hard to keep their children focused during an online class. In a typical classroom, normal distractions are not present, and it forces the students to actively pay attention. This is not the case at home, where children have access to toys, the TV, and their bedrooms. Children associate their homes with playtime and school for learning, so it becomes confusing for them when they are told to do schoolwork while they are at home.

The combination of preexisting reactivity to the environment and sudden cancellation of outside activities for children created many psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems that can be carried on into their adult life. This is why countries must aid parents who are noticing abnormal changes in their child’s demeanor by establishing counseling services that can intercept any mental health issues the child may experience in the future.

Adolescence is a period defined by extreme physical and mental development. It is a crucial time for social growth through the means of peers and family, so limitations in group interactions can have serious consequences on social, emotional, and mental well-being. There is little research on the impact social isolation has on humans, but there have been some studies using rats that can provide insight into the possible behavioral outcomes of adolescents. In a report done on adolescent rodents, it was found that there was “a reduction in cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the hippocampus” (Orben et al. 2020).  The hippocampus is a vital area for the processing and retrieval of memories, and if there is a decrease in cell production, there will be deficits in cognitive functions in these areas. This can lead to forgetfulness in some teens, and this can carry on into their adulthood. This needs to be addressed since memory problems can heavily impact a person’s quality of life, as it can make it difficult for them to remember basic things such as preparing a meal or directions to a destination. Confining teenagers at home for long durations can cause them to have impairments with their memory; they may forget to complete their chores or assignments, and this can lead to them being unable to remember more important things later.

Alongside the potential memory problems that accompany limited peer interactions among rodents are social and behavioral issues. Problems such as anxiety and hostility toward others were observed in adolescent rodents after even a short period of social isolation (Orben et al. 2020). This is critical evidence that social interaction during adolescence is vital for their mental health. The animal may have become so adapted to being alone that the presence of others causes a fight or flight stress response. This can be translated into human behavior, where teens are already susceptible to mental health problems such as anxiety. As a fifteen-year-old when the pandemic was imposed, I know that I was more anxious than usual. I would often be worried when I was in public, and I had no idea why my hands were sweating and shaking. When returning to my usual schedule at school, I found it awkward to communicate with my friends in person again, especially when everyone was wearing a mask. This is expected, as decreased exposure to various social situations can cause an adolescent to feel uncomfortable and insecure in their environment.

The research shows that animals display signs of cognitive and behavioral problems when faced with periods of isolation, and the effects are much more complex when it is applied to humans. Teenagers are faced with difficulties already because of their age and prohibiting them from interacting with others will have severe consequences on their mental health. Parents need to be aware of this and offer help to their children whenever they notice abnormal behavior. In addition, schools and institutions that involve adolescents must provide resources for anyone to go to if they are having any experience with emotional discomfort or mental disorders.

University Students
University students are always on the go, and every student can agree that college classes are strenuous. Many students also work and have extracurricular activities outside of class. The combination of events, assignments, and the need for personal downtime already puts a ton of stress on university students. The cancellation of activities that involve school made it more difficult for these students to get the assistance they need to be successful in their academic careers. Professors were no longer available during class time, causing students to lose a major resource of extra help. With classes being moved to online meetings, many students found it challenging to stay focused without being distracted by their phones or other things. Poor grades can result from this, adding more stress onto the student. University students were also not able to go out with friends or see their family, decreasing options for things to do during downtime. This has them hyper-focused on school even though they are confined to staying at home or in their dorm. This period of isolation was observed to have profound effects on rates of depression and anxiety for college students.

These ideas are illustrated in a survey given to university students in France, as it was found that there were four main precursors to poor mental health: being female, poor feelings of community, poor relationships, and a history of mental illness (Wathelet 2022). Females often have struggles handling their emotions, and most of this can be linked to hormones. Estrogen levels rise and fall rapidly over a month's schedule, and this makes females more susceptible to emotional problems. This does not mean that men cannot be emotional as well, however, the biological instability of these hormones in women puts them more at risk for developing mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

Feelings of not fitting in or having poor relationships with others also set the precursor for mental illness in some college students. If a student does not have a group that they can associate with, they will feel even more isolated than if they had an adequate support system. Human beings have relied on personal relationships since the beginning, and they have depended on each other for emotional and mental support. Without meaningful relations with others, an individual may begin to lose their sense of purpose and feel lonely. If people have access to communication with the people close to them, it will mitigate the effects of social isolation.

Finally, students with preexisting mental illness are more vulnerable to additional psychological problems caused by quarantine. People with depression already report symptoms of loneliness and prohibiting them from opportunities outside the home that may mitigate these feelings will have consequences on the severity of the depression. Anxiety is another common issue for many college students and concerns about getting infected with COVID or getting bad grades add to the plethora of stressors. Decreasing students’ options for support will only make their mental illnesses worse, so these students must be offered the resources they need to cope with these disorders.

My survey was created using Microsoft Forms and was administered to participants via social media and email. 37 respondents were initially recorded. The average age of the respondents at the time of quarantine was 17 years old, and one outlier was omitted. Participants were asked if quarantine impacted their ability to go to school, and subjects that selected “no” were terminated from the results. In the end, there were 32 eligible respondents, with fourteen males and eighteen females.

The most common feeling reported during quarantine was boredom, with 75% of respondents selecting this as one of their struggles. This is significant, as boredom can be a root cause of sadness and depression. The inability to experience activity outside the home makes it extremely difficult for people to find things to do. Activities such as shopping or eating at a restaurant were prohibited, severely limiting the time students could spend with their friends and family. Because of this, many teenagers and students lost their social outlet, therefore losing a resource that can aid their emotional well-being.


Moreover, 59.3% answered that they believe they experienced symptoms of depression during quarantine. Sleep problems (either sleeping too much or too little) were the most reported among the subjects. Unfortunately, sleep is influenced by many factors, so it is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause. However, stress is a great indicator of sleep disturbances. Stress accumulated from financial problems, emotional turbulence, and change in routine builds on an individual. Some people lose sleep over their stress, as they find it hard to fall and/or stay asleep. The opposite can be seen as well since stress can make it challenging to awaken in the morning. Other common symptoms of depression that were recorded include feeling sad, lack of concentration, loss of interest in usual activities, and fatigue.


Thirteen of the 32 respondents answered that they have never been diagnosed with anxiety, however, they speculate that they experienced symptoms during quarantine. This is significant because it shows that people who are not normally anxious were while the quarantine was imposed. The most frequent symptom of anxiety was intrusive thoughts, followed by difficulty paying attention and excessive worrying. This is important since it demonstrates that although some participants felt anxious, they did not get the help they needed to cope with the anxiety.

Through my survey, I concluded that quarantine highly promotes the presence of symptoms of depression and anxiety in teenagers. The abrupt alteration in people’s daily lives and the inability to interact with others had severe consequences on mental health. It is important to use this information to make citizens aware of the possible implications quarantine can have on their well-being. In the case of another stay-at-home order in the future, people can be more conscious about their mental health and locate resources to go to if they are struggling.

How to Ease the Effects of Social Deprivation
Considering all the consequences quarantine has on mental health, it may seem hopeless to mitigate the effects in the instance that another quarantine is imposed. Although mental illness can result from social deprivation, there are ways to ease the impact and live healthily. In an essay that reviewed numerous articles from several countries, the researchers found that there are ways the government can assist citizens in a period where quarantine is necessary. These ideas include educating citizens on the current situation, providing essentials, and making quarantine as short as possible (Brooks et al. 2020). Being transparent with citizens about the information regarding the reason for a quarantine will significantly lower anxiety rates. Uncertainty causes distress for those that fear for their safety, so withholding data and knowledge from the public will only result in more panic. In addition, many people worry about being able to afford essential items such as food and hygiene products. A significant number of employees lost their jobs during quarantine, especially high school or college students with part-time work. This inflicted financial burdens on citizens, and if the government was able to provide necessities to the public, these stressors would be drastically diminished. Finally, the most powerful way to avoid psychological damage is to minimize the length of the quarantine. The longer an individual is deprived of social interaction, the more at risk they become in developing psychological issues.

There are also ways on an individual level to ease the impact of the problems introduced by quarantine. I have concluded from my survey respondents that reducing boredom is the start of overcoming these issues. Setting aside time to call family and friends is essential for maintaining contact and relieving any loneliness. Interactive games also provide opportunities for people to connect with those outside the household. There are many options in activities that are available for people of all ages on various platforms, and it is a great way to engage with others. Experimenting with new hobbies can be beneficial as well since exposure to new activities may influence creativity and minimize boredom.

Personal Experience
I was a sophomore in high school when the coronavirus pandemic outbreak happened. On March 12, 2020, my high school district announced that classes would be canceled for two weeks, in the hope to slow the spread of the virus. I remember my friends and me being excited that we got another break from school, but we did not know how bad the situation was.

The initial two weeks of quarantine were enjoyable. I did my schoolwork from home, and I got to spend lots of time relaxing and spending time with my family. I played video games, talked to my friends online, and watched a lot of TV. However, two weeks out of school eventually turned into missing the rest of my sophomore year. I was upset by this because although I needed the break, I love school. I missed having something to do, and I especially missed being around my friends in person. I love my family deeply, but being confined to the same people for three months was extremely difficult.  

I noticed that I started having feelings of depression during those months away from school. I no longer found my relaxing activities enjoyable, I felt worthless since I had nothing to work towards, and I started to withdraw socially. I would not join calls with my friends as much, and I rarely would get out of my room to interact with my family members. I also noticed that I was more anxious than normal. I would be extremely nervous going outside, and I started to have difficulty sleeping at night.

I know some people that truly enjoyed quarantine altogether, however, this was not my experience. The days blended into one another, and I did absolutely nothing productive.  Since the effects of quarantine had a significant negative impact on me, I wanted to research the effects that quarantine had on an individual’s mental health. It is crucial to emphasize the importance of mental health therapy, as it can intercept any psychological disorders that can develop in the future.

Although quarantine may have been necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19, it had serious ramifications on the mental health of those affected. Students from all levels of education experienced unique struggles during quarantine that need to be addressed. I was able to conclude through my selected sources and created a survey that students are not receiving the help they need to combat psychological problems. It is crucial that resources are provided to students if they are dealing with a mental illness or emotional distress, to ensure that these issues do not carry on into their adult, professional lives.

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet, 395(10227), 912-920. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Symptoms of COVID-19. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Ma, C., Jiang, L., Chu, L., Zhang, C., Tian, Y., Chen, J., Wang, Y. (2022). Mental health problems of preschool children during the COVID-19 home quarantine: A cross-sectional study in Shanghai, China. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 1032244

Orben, A., Tomova, L., & Blakemore, S. J. (2020). The effects of social deprivation on adolescent and mental health. Lancet, 4(8), 634-640

Wathelet, M., Vincent, C., Fovet, T., Notredame, C. E., Habran, E., Martigéne, N., Baubet, T., Vaiva, G., & D’Hondt, F. (2022). Evolution in French university students’ mental health one month after the first COVID-19 related quarantine: results from the COSAMe survey. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13, 868369

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