A Study on the Psychological Wound of COVID-19 in University Students

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

An increasing number of studies have addressed the psychological impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the general population. Nevertheless, far less is known about the impact on specific populations such as university students, whose psychological vulnerability has been shown in previous research. This study sought to examine different indicators of mental health in university students during the Spanish lockdown; we also analyzed the main sources of stress perceived by students in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, and the coping strategies adopted when faced with the situation. Data was collected from 932 students through a web-based platform. Measures of anxiety, depression, irritability, and self-perceived change in mental health were administered, as well as ad hoc measures of stressors and coping strategies. Results indicated that students experienced considerable psychological problems during the confinement, with higher rates of emotional difficulties in women and undergraduate students than in men and postgraduates, respectively. Psychological distress was mainly related to several specific domains of stressors, as perceived by the participants: academic future, task overload, worsening of interpersonal conflicts, and restrictions in pleasant social contact; and far less related to the spread of the disease and its consequences for physical health. As regards coping strategies, both reframing skills and daily routines were shown to be the most effective. A path-analysis model integrating stressors, coping, and mental health revealed that coping strategies partially mediated the effect of stressors on psychological health. In general, results suggest that students’ psychological health was substantially affected by the COVID-19 situation and that the academic and relational changes were the most notable sources of stress. This study reinforces the need to monitor and promote mental health in university students to boost resilience in times of crisis. Our results on effective coping strategies may inform preventive programs aimed at helping students to deal with challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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