Students forced to relocate during the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to have depression

Numerous psychiatric studies have noted increased rates of depression and anxiety among those forced to relocate, sudden strokes that often affect social support, and individuals ’sense of identity and control.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the United States in March 2020, universities evacuated students from their campuses, and thousands moved quickly. Several studies have examined the impact of a sudden disorder on mental health.

In a new study on 791 undergraduate and graduate students, surveyed between April 9 and August 4, 2020, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston University School of Social Work, and McLean Hospital found that more likely students were forced to relocate during the spring to report symptoms of sadness, loneliness, and generalized symptoms associated with COVID-19 rather than students who did not relocate. The findings were published in Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Students have a high rate of mental health concerns, and relocation is a major life stress for everyone, so we wondered what the consequences of relocating from campus would be. We have seen that movement alone predicts mental health concerns, even when other factors that could be involved in mental health are taken into account. “

Cindy Liu, doc. Author of the study, Departments of Child Medicine and Neonatal Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

These other factors included sociodemographic determinants such as age and race, existing mental health diagnoses, measurements of psychological resilience and tolerance to distress, COVID-19 transmission rate in the country where the school was located, and when students took the survey between April and August.

“Even before the pandemic, students suffered from mental health crises, but COVID-19 heightened depression, anxiety and anxiety associated with viruses. One of the important findings of the study shows that those with higher levels of psychological resilience and stress tolerance are much less likely that he has symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD. In other words, those with a greater ability to cope with adversity and / or cope and cope with emotional distress are less likely to have mental problems during a pandemic, “said Hyeouk” Chris “Hahm , Chairman and Associate Professor of the Department of Social Research at BU’s School of Social Work, one of the authors of the paper.

Approximately one-third of respondents had to leave campus, and approximately 80 percent were required to complete the move within one week. Of the 264 students who moved, approximately 40 percent said they left valuable personal belongings behind.

These students were more likely to report worries, sadness, and symptoms of depression associated with COVID-19, generalized anxiety, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even when they considered the same mental health predictors described above.

The link between mental health concerns and leaving personal belongings behind – which could include drugs or other essential items – was particularly striking to researchers.

“The logistics around relocation, the sense of loss associated with it, how colleges communicate about relocation and whether they provide resources to help students or not – these are very critical considerations to be done,” Liu said. “When we make the decision to move students off campus, it’s important to recognize that this action could have consequences downstream.”

Hahm added: “Many students were frustrated by the vague guidelines of their colleges regarding return dates. Some were convinced they could return to campus within a month; so some students left their belongings in their homes. Not all students they could return for their belongings due to great distance or limited time. “

Certain vulnerable subpopulations are more likely to relocate, including those who have indicated non-binary gender identities and those who have received financial assistance. Compared to men, those with a non-binary gender identity were more likely to report depressed, generalized anxiety and PTSD symptoms.

The findings come from a larger study of young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 called the CARES 2020 Project (COVID-19 Adult Resilience Experiences Study), led by Liu and Hyeouk, Chris Hahm, et al. Sc. MSSW, from the School of Social Work at Boston University. The study evaluates symptoms of loneliness, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as two new metrics – grief and worry associated with COVID-19 – that researchers have developed to examine losses and insecurity specifically linked to a pandemic. They range from difficulties in accessing resources to fears of being infected with a virus or transmitting a virus. The researchers recruited participants through email lists, social media pages and word of mouth.

Achieving accurate demographic representation was difficult, which researchers note may limit the ability to generalize their findings. For example, 80 percent of the respondents were women, and blacks and Latinx members made up 4.8 and 5.8 respondents, respectively.

Engaging marginalized groups in the study was important and challenging amid a broader reversal of the pandemic. To this end, the authors assume that their respondents were supported on average by families with more stable socioeconomic status: 44 percent did not receive any financial assistance, and of those who moved, 86 percent could return to a parent or guardian and 91 percent were not required to pay for life.

Researchers are currently examining in more detail the experiences of self-identified sexual and gender minorities. They also obtained data from the second wave of the study to monitor the experiences of young people during a pandemic outside the time frame covered by the initial responses.

“I hope there will be no need for students to move again,” Liu said. “But going forward, I think we need to continue to monitor the psychological consequences of that move.”


Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Journal reference:

Conrad, RC, and others. (2021) Student mental health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic: Implications of campus relocation. Journal of Psychiatric Research.