Methods: This cross-sectional study measured students’ stress levels using the PSS (Cohen and Williamson, 1988). Participants were current BSW and MSW students in a public university. Data were collected using an online demographic and PSS surveys, and 171 surveys were completed. The sample demographics included 34% of students who identified as White, 31% Hispanic/Latinx, 7% African American/Black, 15% Multiracial, and 9% Asian. The sample was primarily female (93%), over age 24 (58.6%), and had no children (61.1%). The majority reported living with others, including family (46%), partners (25%), roommates (16%), or other (4%). Multivariate regressions examined relationships between demographic variables, sources of stress, and scores on the Perceived Stress Scale.
Results: The mean score on the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; range 3-44) across all respondents was 22.54 (SD = 6.07). Most common sources of stress reported included “having trouble focusing on studies and/or work” (66.5%), “feeling disconnected from friends and/or loved ones (60.4%), “finding joy while coping with the pandemic” (39%), “feeling unhappy in my living space” (35.2%), “having my basic needs met” (26.4%), and “limited access to mental health services” (22%). Approximately one fifth (20.3%) of the sample reported that their living arrangement changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the multiple regression suggest that, controlling for demographic variables, students whose living arrangement changed reported significantly higher perceived stress than those whose living arrangements did not change (β = 2.65, p <.01). Those who reported difficulties meeting their own basic needs reported significantly higher perceived stress levels (β = 2.66, p <.05) and those who had “limited access to mental health [services]” also had higher perceived stress (β = 2.85, p <.01).
Conclusions and Implications: The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels among students. Many report housing instability, threats to meeting basic needs, and difficulty accessing mental health services – all of which impact a students’ ability to focus on learning. High levels of stress among students threatens their academic performance (Rafidah et al., 2009) and may impact experiences in field education. To ensure that this cohort of Social Work students advances in their training, leaders and educators in higher education need to examine new practices to address both the holistic well-being and academic performance of students.