Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Third-level students who had financial concerns, a pre-existing illness or higher levels of psychological distress reported higher levels of stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic, a study has found.
The study, carried out by the School of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, aimed to assess levels of coronavirus-related stress among Irish students in the context of very little being known about the long-term effects of the pandemic on young people.
An online survey was completed by 321 college students in Ireland, primarily from higher education institutions.
Of these, 176 were aged between 18-21 and 145 were 22–25, with 78.8 per cent female and 18.1 per cent male.
Approximately 38 pdf cent reported that they have an ongoing illness, and of those around 54 per cent suffer with mental health-related issues.
Risk factors for COVID-19-related stress among college-going students.
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— Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine (@IrishJPsych) July 27, 2022
The sample of students answered various questionnaires online to assess their levels of psychological distress.
In the 10-item Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation tool, participants rated each item on a five-point scale ranging from zero (not at all) to four (most or all the time). The sample of students established a mean of 18.25 which indicates that, on average, students displayed “moderate” levels of psychological distress.
In tracking the results, the study found that Covid-related stress was found to be “positively and significantly associated” with having monetary concerns, a chronic illness or being psychologically distressed.
The study noted: “Students’ gender, having sufficient money at their disposal or not, having a chronic illness or not, and level of psychological distress were found to be significant predictors of Covid-19 stress, so that those who had monetary and financial concerns, had a pre-existing illness, and higher levels of psychological distress reported higher levels of stress related to the pandemic.
“We also found individuals who identified as female reported higher levels of stress related to the pandemic.”
The study found that some assessments used, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and stress resilience scores, were not strongly linked as predictors of high Covid-related stress.
“It could be that Covid-19 stress, representing specific pandemic-related stressors such as isolation experienced as a result of stay-at-home mandates and social distancing measures, is a unique experience that operates differently to other forms of psychological stress that are more typically associated with ACEs and resilience,” the study said.
“It is also possible that Covid-19 stress is related more to other protective factors, beyond resilience, that were not included in this study.”
The study noted that identifying students who may be particularly vulnerable to the stresses of Covid-19 could assist in providing mental health services for those who need it most.
According to the authors, online remote activities and services could be implemented by third-level institutions to provide support to students that help address concerns related to the pandemic.
PhD candidate Madhav Bhargav said: “Our study suggests that the prevalence of mental health concerns among college students has been significant during the pandemic. This stress can increase disparities between and within population groups such as those with low income or those with ongoing mental and physical health issues.
“These mental health problems may continue to linger as the pandemic’s impact progresses and other stressors (such as economic crisis) emerge.
“While education institutions should aim to develop teaching pedagogies and support-service provision that are accessible and inclusive for all students, specific student groups may be in particular need at this time.
“This should be considered by universities when planning and delivering mental health services now and in the months ahead in order to extenuate some of the negative effects experienced.”
The paper, Risk Factors For Covid-19-related Stress Among College-going Students, has been published online in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine.
The data was collected between February and March 2021, when Ireland was under Covid-19 restrictions and all universities were closed for in-person teaching.