Abstract: COVID-19 Is Still Impacting Undergraduate Mental Health and Academic Outcomes: A Comparison of a Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 National Survey (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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593P COVID-19 Is Still Impacting Undergraduate Mental Health and Academic Outcomes: A Comparison of a Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 National Survey

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Janice Snow, BS, Student, Utah State University, Logan, UT
Crissa Levin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Utah State University, Logan, UT
Background: In spring of 2020, COVID-19 resulted in a sudden shift to online instruction. Uncertainty in school, childcare, housing, financial and employment stability, health, and access to food and essentials were major worries. In Spring 2021, many institutions were still partly shut down with events being cancelled unpredictably or not planned with the changing pandemic. Social isolation, health, and financial challenges continued. The present study explores the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on undergraduates and whether students already disadvantaged would display greater mental health distress and decreases in grades during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and a year later. Further, we examine the differences and similarities in mental health and academic outcomes in 2020 compared to 2021.

Methods: Regression analyses compared grade decreases to demographic and mental health variables. Adult undergraduate students in the U.S. were recruited in 2020 and 2021 via social media, instructor announcements, email, or listserv. Two separate cross-sectional surveys were conducted from April - May 2020 (n = 197) and April - May 2021 (n = 142). Participants were asked about demographics, financial concerns, mental health distress using the CCAPS-34, ability to focus, if they had COVID-19 the current semester, if they or any of their family were high-risk for covid-19 complications, their current semester GPA, and what their semester GPA was in February. In 2021, we added questions about social isolation, and loss of closeness with family and friends due to differing safety beliefs surrounding COVID-19.

Results: In spring 2020 and spring 2021, higher depressive symptoms, general anxiety, and academic distress were associated with reported decline in grades. Perceived grade declines were also correlated with higher financial concerns and risk for COVID-19 complications. Students in our 2021 sample felt isolated from others at least half the time during spring 2021, and 58% felt a loss of closeness with friends and family due to differing safety beliefs. Grades decreased during the semester by one letter grade in 2020 and by .64 of a letter grade in 2021. Although there were improvement in academic outcomes, Student mental health was still at concerning levels. In 2020, 11% of our sample had elevated depression, and in 2021 35% had elevated depression. Thirty-nine percent of our sample had elevated anxiety and 47% had academic distress in 2020. This decreased slightly in 2021 but remained highly elevated with 29% showing elevated anxiety and 36% having elevated academic distress.

Conclusion: Students who have higher financial distress and student who are high risk for health complications were more impacted by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. It’s imperative for institutions to provide additional support for students mental health. Mental health outreach, education, and training are necessary for the success of students. Barriers such as wait times, access, stigma, and licensure mobility must be addressed. This research is important for educators, mental health professionals, and policymakers to better understand and address student mental health needs.