Study gauges psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic on university students

January 13, 2021

More than half of all university students in the United States have experienced high levels of psychological impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Matthew Browning of Clemson University, US, and colleagues.

University students are increasingly recognized as a psychologically vulnerable population, suffering from higher levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and disordered eating compared to the general population. Moreover, college students have been among the most strongly affected by COVID-19 because of uncertainty regarding academic success, future careers and social life during college, among other concerns.

In the new study, researchers collected data on 2,534 students from seven U.S. universities using web-based questionnaires carried out between mid-March and early-May 2020. The sampling population varied between universities, in some cases spanning all undergraduate and graduate students and in other cases limited to students enrolled in particular college or courses. Sociodemographic factors were self-reported and questions on the impacts of COVID-19 on students included both open-ended and multiple-choice items.

Respondents were 61% female, 79% non-Hispanic Whites and 20% graduate students. All students surveyed reported being negatively impacted by the pandemic in some way, and 59% of respondents experienced high levels of psychological impact. Being female, non-Hispanic Asian, in fair/poor health, of below-average family income, or knowing someone infected with COVID-19 was associated with higher levels of psychological impact. Students who were non-Hispanic White, of higher socioeconomic status, or spent at least two hours a day outside had lower levels of psychological impact. The authors recommend that, based on the results, university administrators should take aggressive, proactive steps to support the mental health and educational success of their students during the pandemic to prevent long-term consequences on their health and education.

The authors add: "Certain demographic groups were at higher risk of mental health issues than others. Individuals more likely to be in the high risk group were women, younger students, students with pre-existing health conditions, and students who knew someone infected with COVID-19. Lower-income students and Asian students also appeared to be at higher risk. Certain lifestyle factors might influence risk of mental health issues too. For example, students who spent 8+ hours a day engaged in "screen time" were likely to experience higher levels of psychological impacts, while students who engaged in 2+ hours of "outdoor time" were more likely to be in the low risk group. In addition to concerns about physical health and transmission risks, universities need to acknowledge the significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on the mental health of college students. And they need to allocate time and resources to address it. We have to be creative to address this unique and unprecedented problem."
Citation: Browning MHEM, Larson LR, Sharaievska I, Rigolon A, McAnirlin O, Mullenbach L, et al. (2021) Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0245327. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0245327

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE:


Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to