This study examined the rates of depression and anxiety among graduate students at Stony Brook University which was at the national epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, looking for vulnerable groups within this population. We examined demographic characteristics, loneliness, and coping to determine potential risk and protective factors.
Method: A comprehensive online survey was created including the UCLA 3-item Loneliness Scale, PHQ-9 Depression Scale, and GAD-7 Anxiety Scale. The survey was disseminated to graduate students via email, social media, and/or program-specific department newsletters from June through August 2020. Coping was based on self-perception of coping with the pandemic on a scale of 1 (not coping well at all) – 10 (coping extremely well). Standard cut-offs for both the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 were used to define moderate to severe, as well as, severe depression and anxiety, respectively. Data was analyzed using Pearson Chi square and Spearman correlation.
Results: A total of 421 surveys were collected and 361 were analyzed using a cut-off completion rate of 80%. Graduate students had a mean age of 32.07 (SD = 10.47). Students were 69% female, 63% White, 13% Hispanic, 25% married, 19% international students, and 22% LGBTQ. Among graduate students, 89.5% reported moderate to severe depression and 29.1% reported severe depression. Approximately 76% of students reported moderate to severe anxiety and 39% reported severe anxiety. Depression symptoms had a positive correlation with loneliness (r = .501, p<.01) and a negative correlation with coping (r = -.446, p<.01), household income (r = -.257, p<.01), and age (r = -.320, p<.01). Anxiety symptoms had a positive correlation with loneliness (r = .507, p<.01) and a negative correlation with coping (r = -.426, p<.01), household income (r = -.253, p<.01), and age (r = -.251, p<.01). LGBTQ identification was associated with higher rates of depression (98.8% ) and anxiety (91.3%) compared to those that identified as heterosexual (86.9% for depression and 70.4% for anxiety respectively, p values <0.01).
Conclusions and Implications: Data from this research study demonstrate high rates of moderate to severe anxiety and depression in graduate student populations. Our sample came from a single New York State university in an area that was significantly impacted by the pandemic. Consistent with prior research, we found that coping had a strong negative association with depression and anxiety while loneliness had a strong positive correlation. These results should guide interventions to address the mental health needs to graduate students during this extremely important public health crisis.