“Students with financial problems are more likely to be affected by Covid stress”

The study found that third-level students in Ireland who had financial problems, pre-existing illness, or higher levels of psychological stress reported higher levels of stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A study by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Psychology aimed to assess levels of coronavirus-related stress among Irish students at a time when very little is known about the pandemic’s long-term impact on young people.

The online survey was conducted by 321 college students in Ireland, mostly from higher education institutions.

Of these, 176 were between the ages of 18 and 21 and 145 were between the ages of 22 and 25, of which 78.8% were women and 18.1% were men.

Approximately 38% reported that they have a permanent illness, and of these, about 54% suffer from mental health related problems.

A sample of students answered various online questionnaires to assess their level of psychological stress.

In the 10-item Clinical Results in Routine Assessment tool, participants rated each item on a five-point scale from zero (never) to four (most or always). A sample of students set a median of 18.25, indicating that, on average, students exhibited “moderate” levels of psychological distress.

In tracking the results, the study found that Covid-related stress is “positively and significantly associated” with money problems, chronic illness, or psychological distress.

The study notes: “The gender of students, the presence or absence of money at their disposal, the presence or absence of chronic diseases, and the level of psychological stress were important predictors of stress caused by Covid-19, so that those who had monetary and financial concerns had pre-existing illnesses, and higher levels of psychological stress reported higher levels of pandemic-related stress.

“We also found that people who self-identified as women reported higher levels of pandemic-related stress.”

The study found that some of the scores used, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and stress tolerance scores, were not strongly associated as predictors of high Covid-related stress.

“Perhaps Covid-19 stress, which is pandemic-specific stressors such as isolation resulting from stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, is a unique experience that operates differently than other forms of psychological stress,” which are more commonly associated with ACE and resistance,” the study says.

“It’s also possible that Covid-19 stress is more related to other protective factors besides resilience, which were not included in this study.”

The study notes that identifying students who may be particularly vulnerable to the stresses of Covid-19 can help provide mental health services to those who need them most.

According to the authors, remote online activities and services can be implemented by tertiary institutions to provide support to students who help solve the problems associated with the pandemic.

While educational institutions should strive to develop pedagogy and support services that are accessible and inclusive to all students, certain groups of students may be particularly needed at this time.Madhav Bhargav, Trinity College Dublin

PhD candidate Madhav Bhargav said: “Our study shows that the prevalence of mental health problems among college students was significant during the pandemic. This stress can exacerbate inequalities between and within populations, such as those with low incomes or those with ongoing mental and physical health problems.

“These mental health issues may continue to persist as the impact of the pandemic intensifies and other stressors emerge (such as the economic crisis).

“While educational institutions should strive to develop teaching methods and support services that are accessible and inclusive to all students, certain groups of students may be particularly needed at this time.

“Universities should take this into account when planning and delivering mental health services now and in the coming months to mitigate some of the negative effects experienced.”

The article “Risk Factors for Covid-19 Stress Among College Students” was published online in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine.

The data was collected between February and March 2021 when Ireland was under Covid-19 restrictions and all universities were closed for in-person learning.