• COVID-19 At USI: Investigating the Effects of Campus Shutdown and Online Learning on Student Health Outcomes

      Pilot, Zachary; Daniels, Katherine; Rope, Lakota Iron; Pfingston, Ben
      Research Question and Context The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated quick and far-reaching decisions throughout academia. The decision to close campuses and shift to online learning models, accompanied by isolation as part of the shutdowns and quarantines, spurred intense interest in understanding how these environmental changes are affecting students. The current study compares student health outcomes of Introduction to Psychology students from the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters. Grounding Mental health problems are common on college campuses and resources are sparse (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2020). Mental health problems can dramatically impact student motivation and concentration (Unger, 2007). The addition of pandemic-related stressors such as frustration, fear, boredom, and financial loss (Brooks, et al., 2020)may have a sizable effect on an already vulnerable population (Shuchman, 2007) Recent research has shown negative mental health outcomes associated with the lockdown according to student self-reports (Son, et al., 2020), and a study of French university students who had to move mid-semester, during lockdown, were particularly affected by heightened stress (Husky, et al., 2020).The students in the current study were mostly freshmen and will continue to live with this experience as students at USI for several years. It is imperative that we understand how the pandemic has influenced them, and it is our duty as educators to guide them with these potential repercussions. Approach/Method This study is a between-subjects design, comparing students from the Fall 2019 semester to students from the Spring 2020 semester. The primary difference between these two conditions is that all students in the Spring 2020 semester participated after the campus shutdown and switch to online learning. The current study will compare scores on Adverse Childhood Experiences (a factor that may also contribute to stress in college (Karatekin, 2018)), the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS), Life Events Scale for Students (LESS), and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). The Adverse childhood experiences questionnaire ranges from questions about physical, psychological, and sexual abuse to whether a family member was imprisoned. The DERS can be calculated as a total or as subscales like difficulties with impulse control, a representative item is “When I am upset, I have difficulty getting work done”. The LESS is a self-report questionnaire for students about the number of times stressful events have occurred in the last year, such as the death of a loved one or a change in living conditions. The PHQ-9 is a simple screen of depression and anxiety that asks how many times a student experienced “little interest or please in doing things” in the last two weeks. Discussion/Lessons Learned Preliminary independent t-test comparing the Spring 2020 semester to the Fall 2020 semester showed significantly higher scores on the DERS, t (274.023) = 2.68, p = .008 and PHQ-9, t (291) = -15.49, p < .001. Many educators are forced to rely on anecdotal experiences due to the lack of empirical research and lack of similar comparisons to the pandemic. These preliminary findings show differences in emotion regulation and experience of depression/anxiety symptoms. These findings suggest that the myriad effects of the pandemic could be influencing the mental health of students. Thus, their performance in classes and degree pursuit may be affected. There are many solutions to this, from leniency with due dates and understanding. It may necessitate that instructors are more vocal and informed about mental health resources for students. Additionally, it may serve as evidence that future campus mental health resources may be required to meet the current and future needs of students at USI for several years to come. References Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet. Center for Collegiate Mental Health. (2020, January). 2019 Annual Report (Publication No. STA 20-244). Husky, M. M., Kovess-Masfety, V., & Swendsen, J. D. (2020). Stress and anxiety among university students in France during Covid-19 mandatory confinement. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 102, 152191. Karatekin, C. (2018). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), stress and mental health in college students. Stress and Health, 34(1), 36 Shuchman, M. (2007). Falling through the cracks—Virginia Tech and the restructuring of college mental health services. New England journal of medicine, 357(2), 105-110. Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Wang, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey study. Journal of medical internet research, 22(9), e21279. Unger, K. V. (1998). Handbook on supported education: Providing services for students with psychiatric disabilities. Paul H Brookes Publishing Company.