‘High prevalence’ of mental health issues in quarantining students

French survey finds that anxiety and depression increased during lockdown, but fewer students sought professional help

October 23, 2020
Managing your mental health after graduation

More than two-fifths of university students who quarantined in the spring reported experiencing mental health symptoms, according to a French study.

A survey of more than 69,000 students living in France during the country’s first Covid-19 lockdown found that at least a quarter had a high level of anxiety (28 per cent) or a high level of perceived stress (25 per cent) during the preceding month.

A significant share experienced severe stress (22 per cent), severe depression (16 per cent) or suicidal thoughts (11 per cent).

Overall, 43 per cent of respondents reported suffering from at least one of those symptoms, but just 12 per cent of those said they had seen a health professional.

The paper, written by academics at the University of Lille and published by the open-access medical journal Jama Network Open, says that the rates of mental health issues appear to be higher than the estimates obtained among students before quarantine.

A 2016 national survey of almost 19,000 French university students found that 15 per cent reported a depressive episode in the past four weeks and 8 per cent had suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the use of mental healthcare appears to have decreased during the pandemic. Before quarantine, 16- to 24-year-olds with high levels of depression or anxiety sought professional help in 18 to 34 per cent of cases, according to the paper.

The new survey collected data from 17 April to 4 May; 73 per cent of respondents were women and 47 per cent were in their first year of study. The French government mandated a quarantine from 17 March to 11 May, asking citizens to confine themselves to their homes and prohibiting unnecessary travel.

The research says that female or non-binary students, those in poor-quality housing, those who had declared a loss of income because of quarantine and those with a history of psychiatric follow-up were particularly susceptible to experiencing mental health symptoms during the lockdown period. Students who were socially isolated, experienced symptoms consistent with Covid-19, had a low level of physical activity, or said the information they had received related to Covid-19 and quarantine was low quality were also more vulnerable.

The authors say that the findings show that “protecting the mental health of students is a public health issue that appears even more critical in the context of a pandemic” and underlines “the need to reinforce prevention, surveillance and access to care”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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