The toll of COVID-19 and quarantine on college students’ mental health

October 27, 2020
Miranda Hester
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health is hard to measure. A report offers a look at how quarantine impacted the mental health of university students.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its 8th month in the United States, with many people still maintaining the self-isolation from the earliest months, the mental health toll has become an increasing topic of discussion. A study of French university students in JAMA Network Open offers some insight into the mental health state of the students and the factors that are linked to developing mental health symptoms.1

The researchers asked all French universities to send an email to their students to complete an online questionnaire. Each participant was asked about a variety of mental health concerns including suicidal thoughts, stress, anxiety, and depression. They were assessed with the 22-item Impact of Events Scale–Revised, the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale, the 20-item State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (State subscale), and the 13-item Beck Depression Inventory. Care seeking data were also collected.

From a targeted population of 1,600,000 students, 69,054 students completed the survey. Most of the respondents were women (50,251 [72.8%]) and many were first-year students (32,424 [47.0%]). The students reported a prevalence of suicidal thoughts 11.4% (7891 students), severe distress (22.4% (15,463 students), high level of perceived stress 24.7% (17,093 students), severe depression 16.1% (11,133 students), and high level of anxiety 27.5% (18,970 students). Among the 29,564 students who reported at least 1 mental health outcome, 3675 of them said they had seen a health professional. Reporting at least 1 of the mental health outcomes was associated with a number of factors, including:

  • female gender (odds ratio [OR], 2.10; 95% CI, 2.02-2.19; P < .001)
  • nonbinary gender (OR, 3.57; 95% CI, 2.99-4.27; P < .001)
  • precariousness (loss of income: OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.22-1.33; P < .001; low-quality housing: OR, 2.30; 95% CI, 2.06-2.57; P < .001), history of psychiatric follow-up (OR, 3.28; 95% CI, 3.09-3.48; P < .001)
  • symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (OR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.49-1.61; P < .001)
  • social isolation (weak sense of integration: OR, 3.63; 95% CI, 3.35-3.92; P < .001; low quality of social relations: OR, 2.62; 95% CI, 2.49-2.75; P < .001), and
  • low quality of the information received (OR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.49-1.64; P < .001)

The researchers concluded that university students reported a high rate of mental distress during the COVID-19 quarantine, with certain populations at greater potential risk. They believe that their results highlight the need to maintain contact with students, ensuring that they are in a safe place. Additionally, promoting access to care should be encouraged.

References

1. Wathelet M, Duhem S, Vaiva G, et al. Factors associated with mental health disorders among university students in France confined during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2025591. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25591.