A new report out next month from the Journal of Adolescent Health shows a grim picture of how COVID-19 has impacted student mental health. The report entitled “Constant Stress Has Become the New Normal: Stress and Anxiety Inequalities Among U.S. College Students in the Time of COVID-19” included over 700 students participants from 374 colleges across the United States in the research, which began in April 2020 with a majority of the sample size also engaged in a follow-up survey in July. Additionally, the report’s data was broken down based on sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, gender, and income.
The overarching theme of the report reflects growing concern on ways universities must address student mental health as 2021, according to Dr. Alison K. Cohen, instructor at Stanford University’s Department of Epidemiology and Population Health and co-author of the report.
While the full report is not out until February, Diverse Education spoke to the reports co-authors. Here are five takeaways from the report:
- As colleges and universities think about how to manage and mitigate the infectious disease dimensions of COVID-19 among their student populations, they must also consider who is most at risk for increased stress and anxiety during the pandemic.
- Women alongside transgender and gender diverse students, experienced higher stress and anxiety levels compared to men. As Neshat Yazadani, a fourth-year doctoral student who co-authored the report, told Diverse Education, “This kind of combination of experiencing the stress of transitioning to online learning on your own and these added stressors from the home environment like these additional responsibilities made it particularly difficult for women and might have contributed to some of these differences that we found.”
- Those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum faced added mental health stress without adequate access to mental health services, peer support groups, etc. that they would normally have readily available to them in an in-person environment.
- Low-income students experienced higher stress levels compared to those considered high-income, the research found. This, was due to the lasting impacts of the pandemic with household and individual finances being strained in addition to low-income students facing challenges due to lack of internet access, quiet and safe place to study, and additional at-home needs.
- Lastly, in April white students reported higher levels of emotional distress when the participants were first surveyed in April, but by July Black and multiracial students were more heavily impacted due to disproportionate health effects on people of color and the impact of ongoing anti-Black violence in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
To help universities address student mental health concerns, the report suggests that faculty and staff hold check-ins with their students throughout the semester and foster a sense of community even remotely. As Dr. Lindsay Till Hoyt, an assistant professor of psychology at Fordham University and a co-author of the report told Diverse Education, “Thinking about how socio-political events are affecting students stress and focus at the time,” she said. “Being able to incorporate that into your teaching and how exactly how you treat students as people and not just as markers in your class. But to really make sure that they are being supported at multiple levels at the university.”
As the Spring 2021 semester gets into full swing, universities will have the lessons learned from 2020 to help their students. Institutions can best serve their students during this time with many of the tools outlined above through the use of Symplicity Advocate. University students deserve a campus dedicated to their wellbeing and a simple, user-friendly way to report any issue they fear may threaten their ability to thrive. Advocate’s capabilities lessen some of the stress students might already be facing and enable them to easily voice and manage their concerns through cross-campus collaboration among faculty and staff.
This includes seeing which staff member is working with which student, set up virtual counseling sessions, manage workflow, and provide students with proactive tools to help them cope through this time and into 2021. During a time when many regions of the country are seeing less daylight and colder weather, season affective disorder could be impacting many of your students on top of the stresses of the pandemic. Providing student wellbeing must be a top priority for all higher education institutions to ensure student success during and after the pandemic.