This week we will be discussing an article titled, “Impact of COVID on College Student Mental Health and Wellness”, authored by Copeland and colleagues. In this article published in October of 2020, the authors examine and discuss the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the emotions, behavior, and wellness of first-year college students. 


Why did they do it?

The rapid progression of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact millions of individuals across the world. Preliminary data suggests that the outbreak itself, as well as the unprecedented government response in America, has had a profound psychological impact on the general public. 

The study reviewed today focused on college students, whose lives (like most) were significantly disrupted by COVID-19. Millions of college students were unexpectedly displaced from their dorms and peer groups, required to leave campus immediately, and expected to continue their academic work remotely. While the steps taken by college and university officials were certainly in the interest of public health, the aim of the study we’re discussing today was to understand the psychological impact that the pandemic (and subsequent response to the pandemic) has had on college students. 


How did they do it?

Data for the reviewed study was a subsample of a larger dataset collected at the University of Vermont (UVM). Eligible participants for the larger study had to be full time, first-year UVM undergraduates, aged 18-25. In total, 675 students completed a full assessment of behavioral and emotional functioning at the beginning of the Spring semester 2020. Of these, 576 completed the same assessment at the end of the Spring semester after the onset of COVID. 600 participants completed at least one item from a COVID-related survey, and 485 completed nightly surveys of mood and wellness behaviors on a regular basis both before and after the onset of the COVID crisis.


What did they find?

Relative to the COVID-specific survey, the majority of students (68.4%; n=384) reported that they were not confident with the government's handling of COVID-19, and 86.3% of students reported being hopeful that COVID-19 would be resolved. In terms of the general impact of COVID-19 on their lives, 23.8% (n=136) of students reported knowing someone that had tested positive for COVID-19 and 2.4% (n=14) knew someone that had died due to COVID-19. 

Students also reported how disruptive COVID-19 had been to them personally on a 10-point scale ranging from “not at all disruptive” to “extremely disruptive.” The mean level of disruptiveness was 7.8, with 87.3% reporting a score of 6 or greater. When analyzing changes in emotional and behavioral functioning via the Brief Problem Monitor (BPM), the authors found that from the beginning of the spring to the end of the spring, there were modest improvements in internalizing symptoms, but found the opposite for externalizing problems and attention problems.

Overall, persistent negative effects on students’ behavioral and emotional functioning, particularly externalizing and attention problems, were reported. Subjective reports also suggest that while the crisis was highly disruptive and students showed limited confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis, they remained hopeful for the future and reported very high levels of compliance with governmental laws and suggestions. As the authors state, these findings are consistent with students that experienced natural disasters overall, but notably, internalizing symptoms did not decline here as has been seen in prior work. 


What does it all mean (our take)?

We want to take a moment to recognize the impact that COVID-19 has had not only on college students (as reviewed here), but on the world as a whole. During these unprecedented times, it is crucial that studies such as the study reviewed today be conducted. While the psychological impact of a global pandemic is significant, understanding that impact in better detail will help assure that the response to an inevitably growing demand for resources will meet the needs of affected individuals. 

These authors have taken a great step in recognizing the impact that COVID-19 has had on the mental wellbeing of college students. We appreciate the author’s work on this study, and we will continue to monitor newly published articles analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on people across the globe.

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