Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States

Matthew H.E.M. Browning, Lincoln R. Larson, Iryna Sharaievska, Alessandro Rigolon, Olivia McAnirlin, Lauren Mullenbach, Scott Cloutier, Tue M. Vu, Jennifer Thomsen, Nathan Reigner, Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Ashley D'Antonio, Marco Helbich, Gregory N. Bratman, Hector Olvera Alvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

BACKGROUND: University students are increasingly recognized as a vulnerable population, suffering from higher levels of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and disordered eating compared to the general population. Therefore, when the nature of their educational experience radically changes-such as sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic-the burden on the mental health of this vulnerable population is amplified. The objectives of this study are to 1) identify the array of psychological impacts COVID-19 has on students, 2) develop profiles to characterize students' anticipated levels of psychological impact during the pandemic, and 3) evaluate potential sociodemographic, lifestyle-related, and awareness of people infected with COVID-19 risk factors that could make students more likely to experience these impacts. METHODS: Cross-sectional data were collected through web-based questionnaires from seven U.S. universities. Representative and convenience sampling was used to invite students to complete the questionnaires in mid-March to early-May 2020, when most coronavirus-related sheltering in place orders were in effect. We received 2,534 completed responses, of which 61% were from women, 79% from non-Hispanic Whites, and 20% from graduate students. RESULTS: Exploratory factor analysis on close-ended responses resulted in two latent constructs, which we used to identify profiles of students with latent profile analysis, including high (45% of sample), moderate (40%), and low (14%) levels of psychological impact. Bivariate associations showed students who were women, were non-Hispanic Asian, in fair/poor health, of below-average relative family income, or who knew someone infected with COVID-19 experienced higher levels of psychological impact. Students who were non-Hispanic White, above-average social class, spent at least two hours outside, or less than eight hours on electronic screens were likely to experience lower levels of psychological impact. Multivariate modeling (mixed-effects logistic regression) showed that being a woman, having fair/poor general health status, being 18 to 24 years old, spending 8 or more hours on screens daily, and knowing someone infected predicted higher levels of psychological impact when risk factors were considered simultaneously. CONCLUSION: Inadequate efforts to recognize and address college students' mental health challenges, especially during a pandemic, could have long-term consequences on their health and education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0245327
JournalPloS one
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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