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College students and COVID-19: Mental health and purpose formation

Betty S. Lai, PhD, Barbora Hoskova, MA, Alexa Riobueno-Naylor, BA, Courtney A. Colgan, MA, Samantha S. Aubé, BA, Belle Liang, PhD


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster event associated with negative social, mental health, financial, and academic outcomes for college students. However, there is limited evidence to guide efforts to help support college students during the crisis. This study used a disaster conceptual model to evaluate the relationship between COVID-19 stressors and mental health and purpose in college students in the United States.

Methods: Cross-sectional data were collected from 251 undergraduates through an online survey between April and May 2020.

Results: Students were exposed to multiple COVID-19 stressors (M = 8.14, SD = 3.02). Overall, 53.0 percent reported moderate to severe levels of depression, 40.7 percent reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety, and 39.4 percent endorsed having a clear sense of purpose in life. A disaster conceptual model fit the data well (c2 [30] = 31.93, p = .37, CFI = 0.995, RMSEA = 0.02, SRMR = 0.04). COVID-19 stressors were directly associated with depression and anxiety, and inversely associated with purpose. Perceived stress was an intervening variable in this relationship.

Conclusion: Findings highlight the relationship between COVID-19 disaster stressors and mental health and purpose outcomes and provide evidence which may help guide recovery efforts.


college, COVID-19, mental health, purpose

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