Science Summary Fall 2020

Dana Humphrey / October 19, 2020

Mental Health Severely Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic

Several studies have observed mental health impacts of the pandemic among young people and college students. A survey released in July by the Healthy Minds Network and the American College Health Association described worsening depression and financial stress among college students since the beginning of the pandemic. The survey of 18,764 students on 14 campuses also showed that many are finding it difficult to access mental health care. Another recent study from the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium based at University of California – Berkeley showed pandemic-driven increases in depression and anxiety among college students. The survey of 30,725 undergraduate students and 15,346 graduate and professional students at nine U.S. public research universities nationwide found that 35% of undergraduates screened positive for major depressive disorder, while 39% of all students screened positive for anxiety disorder. The number of students who screened positive for anxiety disorder in the study was up by 50% compared to one conducted in 2019. The prevalence of major depressive disorder was two times higher among graduate and professional students, compared to 2019. The rate of anxiety and depression was higher among low-income students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students and those who are caring for loved ones. A study published in Psychiatry Research suggests that young adults with suspected or diagnosed mental health conditions experienced elevated levels of distress during the months of April and May, compared to those without any confirmed or suspected diagnoses. Young adults with a suspected or confirmed diagnosis were found to have higher levels of depression, anxiety, PTSD, COVID-19-related worry and grief, poorer sleep, and poorer reported health-related quality of life. 

Stress and Anxiety Management Programs

A new Yale study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry examined mental health interventions on university campuses. Seppälä et al. found that when college students learn specific techniques for managing stress and anxiety, their well-being improves across a range of measures. In a randomized control trial, the research team evaluated three semester-long classroom-based wellness training programs that incorporate breathing and emotional intelligence strategies. Of the three, two led to improvements in aspects of well-being when compared to a control group. SKY Campus Happiness, a well-being and resilience program, was found to be the most effective, and led to improvements in six areas of well-being: depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect and social connectedness. The researchers concluded that the two effective programs may be cost effective and efficient ways to proactively address mental health for university students.

Black and Latino Students Education Access

A report by the Education Trust demonstrates that black students have less access to the most selective public colleges in the United States than they did in 2000. For their analysis, the organization graded 101 public colleges based on the share of their students that were Black or Latino, compared with the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds from those demographic groups in each college’s state. An institution that served an undergraduate student body representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of their state’s population received an A. Poorly performing colleges received an F. Most colleges failed, and less than a quarter received a passing grade for black student representation. Fewer than one in ten institutions received an A. Over the past two decades, the percentage of black students has decreased at close to 60% of the most selective public colleges and universities. According to the reports authors, the findings “show very little progress has been made since 2000, and the overwhelming majority of the nation’s most selective public colleges are still inaccessible for Black and Latino undergraduates.”

COVID-19’s Disparate Effects on Low Income Students

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately effected students from low income and working class backgrounds. New research from the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) examines undergraduate, graduate, and professional students’ experiences during the pandemic, finding that students from low-income families and students of color reported higher levels of food and housing security, depressive symptoms, ahd financial strains. According to Social Class Differences in Students’ Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic, a survey of 45,000 students, showed that students from low-income and working-class backgrounds were significantly more likely to experience financial hardships like the loss of income from family members, increases in living expenses, the loss/cancellation of jobs or internships, and the loss of wages from off-campus employment. These students also disproportionately experienced academic obstacles during the transition to remote learning, including lack of access to technology, learning support services and a place to study. Authors Krista M. Soria and Bonnie Horgos encouraged colleges and universities to consider the unique needs and experiences of students from low-income and working-class backgrounds.