• Last updated: Tue, Jan 30, 2024Status: Published
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  • Evelina Bj√∂rkegren, Helena Svaleryd , and Jonas Vlachos

Remote Instruction and Student Mental Health. Swedish Evidence from the Pandemic

In their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, most countries implemented school closures and transitioned to remote instruction. This raised concerns about a potential negative impact on student mental health. Sweden took a different approach by only closing upper-secondary schools. In March, students aged 17-19 in upper-secondary schools shifted to remote learning, while their lower-secondary counterparts, aged 14-16, continued with in-person classes. This unique situation in Sweden provided us with a natural experiment to study the effects of different instructional modes on student mental health.

Leveraging detailed administrative data, our study focused on evaluating changes in the utilization of mental healthcare services among students in both upper and lower secondary schools. We find a 4.4 percent decrease in the use of mental healthcare services linked to remote instruction. This reduction was primarily attributed to fewer diagnoses and prescriptions related to depression and anxiety, especially among students in academic tracks. Survey data from schools indicated that students in these tracks experienced more exposure to remote instruction compared to those in vocational or preparatory tracks.

Our findings suggest that the observed changes were not a result of reduced access to healthcare services among upper-secondary students. The decrease in mental healthcare usage persisted throughout the study period, continuing for 21 months following the initial school closures and lasting 9 months after the schools resumed normal operations. These results suggest potential mental health benefits associated with remote instruction in the medium term.

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