The mental health and well-being of students at the University of Warwick during the COVID-19 pandemic will be tested, tracked, and tackled by internationally renowned psychologists at the institution.
Led by the Sleep and Pain Laboratory in Warwick’s Department of Psychology, the university-wide mental health screening and tracking study will invite students on campus to share concerns about their well-being throughout the pandemic, linking those who are struggling with collaborators in campus Well-being Support Services.
The researchers will also offer the use of a wearable device to students who take part in the study, which will enable them to report their mood in real-time, and monitor their sleep and physical activity.
All the data from the study will be used to keep the students safe and well, to ensure the resilience of campus support services, and to provide crucial scientific information on how COVID-19 is affecting people’s mental well-being – locally and globally.
Alongside the Warwick Students’ Union, the Warwick Chinese Society and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association are supporting the study, ensuring that the Chinese student population at Warwick will be well-represented by the research, and that the data reflect the diversity of Warwick’s international campus in its response to the pandemic.
The study is also supported by the Centre for Mental Health and Well-being Research.
Dr Nicole Tang, who is leading this study, commented: ‘Understanding and managing the mental health impact of COVID-19 should be an integral part of every organisation’s response strategy. We need science and local intelligence to guide and tailor the response. Our research team is grateful for the opportunity to do just that for Warwick, with support from the PVC(Research) COVID-19 Research Programme.’
Professor Sai Gu, newly-appointed Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (China) of the University of Warwick, commented: ‘The COVID-19 outbreak is swiftly leading us into a global mental health pandemic, as we each face the anxieties and uncertainties of lockdown and a changing world. Just as the best minds of every nation are collaborating to fight the physical challenges this virus presents, so must we seek to tackle its widespread psychological and emotional impacts on our lives.
‘I am proud that Warwick is leading this new study, which will unlock key insights into the global impact of this pandemic on our wellbeing, provide a toolkit for staying mentally well that could be used across the world, and enable us to keep protecting the students at the heart of our diverse campus community.’
‘I am particularly happy that our vibrant, growing Chinese student population will play a significant role in this vital research.’
Tiana Holgate, Welfare and Campaigns Officer for Warwick Students’ Union, commented: ‘Within my role as Welfare & Campaigns Sabbatical Officer in the Students’ Union, supporting and responding to the mental health and wellbeing of our Students has been my priority since the outbreak of COVID-19.
‘This unprecedented time has had a huge impact on students. This research is a vital piece of work from the Psychology Department, to give us a greater understanding into the unique experiences of students. I am very excited to be supporting this project on behalf of Warwick Students’ Union to help students in this time.”
Phil Irving, Manager for the Centre of Mental Health and Wellbeing Research, commented: ‘Understanding the impact of an event as traumatic as the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and welfare of students is essential in tackling the inevitable fallout that it will have on students at Warwick and beyond.
‘This timely study is being carried out at Warwick University by our world-class researchers, with the project outcomes providing concrete ways to support individual students and also inform long-term university policies. The Warwick Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing research is delighted to support this university-wide study, with impacts ultimately beyond the current crisis.’
The project will take place in two key phases: In Part 1 of the study, the researchers will recruit around 3000 students, on and off campus, who will anonymously write down their concerns and feelings, as well as the help they feel they need.
The text will be analysed for research, and will inform longer-term planning for the provision of appropriate intervention provision when the university fully reopens. The respondents will also be asked to complete a survey of their symptoms and behaviours that warrant further support. The researchers will work alongside campus Wellbeing Support Services to provide support for survey respondents with scores above the risk threshold to seek support through the user-friendly Wellbeing Portal – with the students’ full knowledge and consent.
Part 2 of the study will involve tracking. The first 500 eligible participants of Part 1 of the study will be offered the use of a wearable device, which they will keep on them for four weeks. The device will give the students the capability to report their mood in real-time, as well as basic logs of sleep and physical activity patterns. This will provide valuable data mapping changes in their wellbeing variables throughout the development of the pandemic. Students will also have free access to a health and wellbeing app, and can keep the device for their own use after the study.
COVID-19 has presented varying levels of stress and uncertainty to society worldwide. The economic, social and psychological impact of the social distancing measures have added to the growing challenge of maintaining positive mental health and well-being.
Previous research on the consequences of SARS epidemic in China has shown a significant and long-lasting psychosocial impact of the crisis.
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