Study suggests ‘robust social support is necessary’ to buffer against anxiety amid coronavirus pandemic

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New research from China has identified several factors that appear to be protective factors against anxiety for college students during the COVID-19 outbreak. The study has been published in the scientific journal Psychiatry Research.

In December 2019, an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. A mandatory quarantine went into effect on January 23, 2020.

“It has been indicated that the increasing number of patients and suspected cases, as well as the increasing number of provinces and countries affected by the outbreak, have elicited public worry about being infected in this outbreak, which has increased anxiety,” the authors of the study explained.

The researchers surveyed 7,143 undergraduates of Changzhi Medical College in Hubei Province. About 20 percent of the students had mild anxiety symptoms, about 3 percent had moderate symptoms, and about 1 percent had severe symptoms.

The researchers found that students living with their parents tended to have lower levels of anxiety compared to students living alone. Students from urban areas, students from families with a steady income, and students who reported greater social support were also at a reduced risk of anxiety.

“This result suggests that effective and robust social support is necessary during public health emergencies,” the researchers said.

The vast majority of the participants (99.45%) did not have any relatives or acquaintances who were infected with COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, the few who did have relatives or acquaintances infected with COVID-19 were more likely to be severely anxious.

Several COVID-19-related stressors were also found to be associated with anxiety symptoms, including worry about the economic influences of the epidemic, worry about academic delays, and the influence of the epidemic on daily-life.

“The mental health of college students is significantly affected when faced with public health emergencies, and they require attention, help, and support of the society, families, and colleges. It is suggested that the government and schools should collaborate to resolve this problem in order to provide high-quality, timely crisis-oriented psychological services to college students,” the researchers concluded.

The study, “The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China“, was authored by Wenjun Cao, Ziwei Fang, Guoqiang Hou, Mei Han, Xinrong Xu, Jiaxin Dong, and Jianzhong Zheng.

(Photo credit: Tim Dennell)