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The psychological impact of COVID-19 on university students

The psychological impact of COVID-19 on university students: A comparative evaluation of mental health interventions at universities from pre- to post-COVID era

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immensely negative impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of individuals all over the globe. For young people who are already going through a sensitive and critical period of transition and development, the effects of the pandemic have been even more heightened. Social isolation and a rapid change in their day-to-day life have upended much of the expectations university students have for their time in college. Indeed, literature shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of university students all over the world. This has manifested in numerous ways, including poorer mental wellbeing scores (Ghafari et al., 2021; Göl and Erkin, 2021; Reverté‐Villarroya et al., 2021; Wieczorek et al., 2021; Zhu et al., 2021), higher rates of anxiety (Dhar et al., 2020; Cao et al., 2021), increased isolation, and loss of social support (von Keyserlingk et al., 2021). Interventions proposed and carried out by universities can have a major influence on the wellbeing of young people. The aim of this project is to evaluate the mental health interventions undertaken by universities before and during the pandemic, and the possible implications of them.

Crucially, there was limited information about COVID-related mental health issues that initially burdened students at the beginning of the pandemic. First and foremost, a clear understanding of the psychological impact the pandemic had on students is needed (Savarese et al., 2020). Higher education institutions need to better understand college students’ mental health needs and should continue to raise awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing. This is crucial, as the high recreancy (i.e., a low trust in university and society) of students may prevent them from asking for help from their respective institutions. A study surveyed 600 UK university students and discovered that students who did not trust universities, had lower levels of mental health well-being (Defeyter et al., 2021). Due to the adoption of social distancing measures all over the world, many universities have changed the delivery method of mental health services (e.g., self-help tools, online counselling) to continue supporting students socially and emotionally. However, around half of the students have limited knowledge about how to access these online services and may even be unaware of them.

Indeed, raising awareness of these resources, and creating increased trust between institutions and students is indispensable, as the interventions that are currently in place (such as online chatting and active listening, and counselling) do appear to be effective at reducing common mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety (Gabrielli, et al., 2021; Savares et al. 2020). In particular, promoting students’ increased emotional resilience through social support, mindfulness and acceptance, and psychoeducation may help prevent the mental health difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Thus, future research should consider how these factors could be best addressed through online university counselling services.


Browning, M.H.E.M., Larson, L.R., Sharaievska, I., Rigolon, A., McAnirlin, O., Mullenbach, L. et al. (2021). Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States. PLoS ONE, 16(1): e0245327.

Cao W, Fang Z, Hou G et al. (2021) The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China. Psychiatry Res. 2020; 287: 112934.

Defeyter, M. A., Stretesky, P. B., Long M. A., Furey. S., Reynolds, C., Porteous, D., & Dodd, A. (2021). Mental well-being in UK higher education during covid-19: Do students trust universities and the government? Frontiers in Public Health, 9, 9-13.

Dhar, B.K., Ayittey, F.K., & Sarkar, S.M. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on Psychology among the University Students. Global Challenges, 4:200038.

Gabrielli, S., Rizzi, S., Bassi, G., Carbone, S., Maimone, R., Marchesoni, M., & Forti, S. (2021). Engagement and effectiveness of a healthy-coping intervention via chatbot for university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: Mixed methods proof-of-concept study. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2021, 9, 1-14. doi: 10.2196/27965

Ghafari, R., Mirghafourvand, M., Rouhi, M., & Osouli Tabrizi, S. (2021). Mental health and its relationship with social support in Iranian students during the COVID-19 pandemic. BMC Psychology, 9(1), 81–81.

Göl, İ., & Erkin, Ö. (2021). Mental status of nursing students assessed using the general health questionnaire during the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care.

Ren, Z., Xin, Y., Ge, J., Zhao, Z., Liu, D., Ho, R., & Ho, C. (2021). Psychological Impact of COVID-19 on College Students After School Reopening: A Cross-Sectional Study Based on Machine Learning. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 641806. 

Reverté‐Villarroya, S., Ortega, L., Lavedán, A., Masot, O., Burjalés‐Martí, M. D., Ballester‐Ferrando, D., Fuentes‐Pumarola, C., & Botigué, T. (2021). The influence of COVID‐19 on the mental health of final‐year nursing students: comparing the situation before and during the pandemic. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 30(3), 694–702.

Savarese, G., Curcio, L., D’Elia, D., Fasano, O., & Pecoraro, N. (2020). Online university counselling services and psychological problems among Italian students in lockdown due to Covid-19. Healthcare 2020, 8, 440. doi:10.3390/healthcare8040440

von Keyserlingk, L., Yamaguchi‐Pedroza, K., Arum, R., & Eccles , J.S. (2021). Stress of university students before and after campus closure in response to COVID‐19. Journal of Community Psychology, 1-17.

Wieczorek, T., Kołodziejczyk, A., Ciułkowicz, M., Maciaszek, J., Misiak, B., Rymaszewska, J., & Szcześniak, D. (2021). Class of 2020 in poland: Students’ mental health during the covid‐19 outbreak in an academic setting. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(6), 1–14.

Zhu, Y., Wang, H., & Wang, A. (2021). An evaluation of mental health and emotion regulation experienced by undergraduate nursing students in China during the COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing.

This blog post was written by members of the Polygeia Edinburgh Branch.


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