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COVID stressors left students feeling ‘hopeless’: study

The pandemic’s fallout harmed racial minorities the most, professors say

Professors at a New Jersey university who conducted a major study on student health impacts of COVID-19 reported that the pandemic and resulting conditions left many college students suffering from mental health issues.

Policymakers and administrators may want to take a look at the results of the professors’ research in the event of future virus outbreaks.

“Most reported being more depressed or down, [and] three-quarters of the sample reported feeling more anxious, with uncontrollable worry,” psychiatrist and lead author Carrie Warner told the university for an article on her Montclair State University study. “Sixty-eight percent reported sleep problems, and—this is most concerning—60% reported feeling hopeless.”

Her research team “enrolled the largest and most diverse sample of college students to date from universities in New York and New Jersey, the epicenter of the North American pandemic in Spring 2020,” and polled 4,714 students in total, according to the abstract.

In a May 19 email to The College Fix, Andrew Mees, media relations director, confirmed that to the best of the university’s knowledge, the study is still the largest of its kind.

The study assessed the “psychological, academic, and financial health of college students who were initially most affected and examined racial/ethnic group differences.”

“Worry about COVID-19 infection, stressful living conditions, lower grades, and loneliness emerged as correlates of deteriorating mental health,” the paper reported. “COVID-19’s mental health impact on college students is alarming and highlights the need for public health interventions at the university level.”

Study’s findings likely apply to students in general, researchers said

Of the students who experienced sleep problems during shutdowns, some turned their sleep schedules upside down.

One student quoted in News12’s assessment of the Montclair study states that amid the educational shutdown: “I’d basically roll out of bed, open my laptop, do class, close it, and roll over and go back to sleep.”

The pandemic educational shutdown induced racially disparate outcomes in New York and New Jersey, according to the Montclair study. Black, Latino, and Asian students were more concerned than white students about whether they had the resources necessary to continue attending college, Professor Jazmin Reyes-Portillo told the university.

The study’s findings are “more generalizable, in terms of impact” because of the combination of a large sample size and the location of the survey, according to the researchers.

That means that their results can be understood as representative of the experience of college students in general. This may be in part because those in the New York City area were among the first in America to experience the coronavirus lockdown.

“We may see the reverberations of this for years,” Warner, the psychiatrist and study leader, stated.

MORE: Post-lockdown, students struggle to pass basic courses

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About the Author
Declan Hurley -- University of Chicago