It is well recognized that COVID-19 has significantly impacted all sectors of our lives from work and school to our social lives and mental health. While literature on large-scale disasters is frequently cited, a gap remains regarding long-lasting mental health consequences of the pandemic. The purpose of this study is to identify overall themes in responses to COVID-19, explore risk and protective factors in regard to coping from the stress of the pandemic, and chart the changes over time among future social work practitioners.
A mixed methods design was used to collect data from MSW students at a large private University. Students completed a cross-sectional quantitative survey that collected demographic information, as well as measuring scales of general anxiety, substance use, household food security, and social interdependence. For the qualitative portion, students logged in to zoom weekly over a two-month period to record their diary entries. Participants were given prompts to guide their diary entries. Dedoose was used to code the qualitative longitudinal data using a phenomenological approach. A temporal matrix analysis approach was used to visually represent themes that emerged over time.
Our findings identified three main categories: (1) characteristics of the virus; (2) how COVID-19 impacted life; and (3) how these changes made participants feel. Several themes and subthemes emerged within each of these three main categories. Eight themes emerged under the “virus” category: (1) misconceptions about COVID; (2) COVID trajectory; (3) COVID exposure; (4) access to needed resources; (5) trust in authority; (6) policy changes; (7) survivors’ guilt; and (8) outlook and uncertainty. Six themes emerged under the “impact” category: (1) technology; (2) getting back to normal; (3) impact on social work practice; (4) disruption as a result of COVID-19; (5) social and interpersonal changes; and (6) physical environment. Finally, four themes emerged under the “feeling” category: (1) mental health; (2) somatic complaints; (3) emotional reactions; and (4) self-care and religion and spirituality.
Conclusion and Implications
Our results indicate that social work students were greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in multiple realms of their lives. This study utilized technology as an innovative modality to safely gather data during a global health crisis. In addition, the longitudinal nature of this study highlights the unique role of change over time and the importance of capturing this change through qualitative longitudinal methods. The results of the study may be used for the development of supportive interventions for social work students and practitioners responding to worldwide disasters.