In a recent study published in Psychreg Journal of Psychology, researchers delved into the psychological effects of the Covid pandemic on university students. The results highlighted the differential impacts on various student demographics based on gender, minority status, and whether they were first-generation university students.
The study was undertaken at a South-eastern university in the US, comprising a sample size of 124 students who participated in an online survey. This inclusive survey incorporated numerous psychological indicators like academic self-efficacy, imposter syndrome, conscientiousness, resilience, pandemic fatigue, hope, empathy, and flow, along with inquiries about the pandemic’s influence on the students’ lives and education.
The study results revealed that the majority of participants reported that their lives and education had been adversely impacted by the pandemic. Interesting disparities emerged based on gender and minority status, with women reporting higher levels of pandemic fatigue and emotional contagion empathy than men. In contrast, minority students showed significantly higher resilience compared to non-minority students. The study found no significant differences based on first-generation university student status, which the researchers concluded was due to the pandemic’s universally severe impact on psychological wellbeing.
Offering her insights on the findings, Vicki Gier, PhD a professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian and co-author of the study, stated: “Our research addressed the impact of the Covid pandemic on undergraduate students in the United States. We were particularly interested in feedback from first-generation university students, minoritised students, and how different genders may have been impacted.”
The resilience demonstrated by minority students piqued Gier’s interest. “The presenters addressed issues at community colleges, four-year universities, and graduate schools, including PhD programmes. I was impressed and overwhelmed learning how these students at all levels struggled, reaffirming that adversity can sometimes forge strength. However, the higher rates of pandemic fatigue and emotional contagion empathy among female students suggest a need for tailored support and interventions.”
Gier stressed the necessity for institutions to understand these different experiences and accommodate students’ varying psychological needs. “Our study showed the Covid pandemic had a negative impact on all students in some form, whether it be their psychological well-being or lack of support, mentoring, and resources to earn their degree online without adequate technology or lacking the support of family members who understand the college experience.”
In regards to the insignificant differences between first-generation and non-first-generation students, Gier noted: “This perhaps underlines how pervasive the impact of the pandemic has been. It’s crossed social and economic boundaries, affecting everyone’s mental health.”
The study unearthed a surprising fact that almost a quarter of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their education was affected due to losing someone they knew to Covid. This finding emphasises the deeply personal and significant impact the pandemic had on students’ lives and educational experiences, reinforcing the need for providing support to students dealing with catastrophic events, pandemic-related or otherwise.
Emphasizing the importance of preventive mental health strategies, Gier stated: “The takeaway from our study, as well as other studies on the negative impact of the Covid pandemic on college students, is that the difficulties students have faced provide a basis for colleges to provide additional support.”
The research findings underline the immediate need for higher education institutions to contemplate the diverse needs and strengths of different student populations when devising strategies to support their psychological well-being. The researchers recommend proactive steps like preventive mental healthcare collaborations among administrators, faculty members, and mental health workers.
The study advocates the use of expressive writing, such as blogging, as a potential resilience-building tool for university students. Previous research has demonstrated that expressive writing can lessen stress and enhance wellbeing, potentially serving as an effective preventive strategy to tackle the psychological toll of future pandemics or similar crises.
The study concludes by urging further research into university students’ psychological wellbeing and suggesting cross-institution collaborations like research symposiums and guest lectures as potential initiatives to support students.
Gier expressed optimism for the research’s implications for future policies. “We must rise to the occasion prior to future pandemics. We hope that these findings contribute to the formulation of more inclusive, targeted mental health support strategies in higher education. We’re eager to continue our research in this field, collaborating across institutions to generate a broader understanding and more effective responses to students’ psychological well-being.”
The study provides a stark overview of the psychological toll of the pandemic on university students, drawing attention to the unique experiences of different demographic groups. It underscores the need for targeted support strategies and a comprehensive understanding of students’ mental health amid unprecedented challenges.