The CMU research reveals how the pandemic and lack of bodily exercise led to a rise in melancholy amongst school college students Pittsburgh
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College students can be especially vulnerable to mental health problems for a dozen of reasons, such as: For example, when they don’t live at home, they make new friends, figure out how to grow up, and grapple with hard realizations about the world. For many college students, the arrival of the pandemic in 2020 unexpectedly took them to an even more confusing realm. A new study from Carnegie Mellon University, conducted in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and the University of San Diego, found that the pandemic had a significant impact on the mental health of college students.
The study, entitled “Lifestyle and Mental Disorders During COVID-19,” was published in the March 2021 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It started in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, and was initially designed to establish the link between physical activity and wellbeing. After the pandemic broke out, the study focused on how quickly college students’ mental health was declining and how often they were depressed, along with anxiety and other mental health problems.
Silvia Saccardo is assistant professor at the Institute for Social and Decision-making Sciences at the CMU and lead author of the research paper. She says that depression rates usually increase slightly towards the end of a semester, but not enough to be statistically important. After the COVID-19 success, however, there was a “sharp rise” in depression towards the end of the semester. She also noted that students who participated in the study in 2019 showed average levels of stress and physical activity, while in March and April 2020 the health of these metrics “decreased dramatically”.
To conduct the study, the researchers gave FitBits to selected groups of students to track their physical activity levels, as well as regular surveys about their mood and lifestyle.
Participants, who began the study in 2020, began in February just before the pandemic hit the US and attended the remainder of the semester when classes went virtual and many students returned home. The timeline of the research allowed the team to compare how the health and wellbeing of a group changed from just before the pandemic started to afterwards, and compare this information with participants in 2019 during a “regular” school year.
The study shows that the average steps measured by FitBits decreased from 10,000 to 4,600 steps per day over the course of a three-month semester. The total physical activity decreased from 4.4 hours to 2.9 hours per day.
“We estimate that by the end of the 2020 spring semester in April, an estimated 61% of our participants were at risk for clinical depression,” the study says. “This is an increase of around 90% versus 32% in the same population, just 2 [months] earlier before the pandemic. ”
These statistics should come as no surprise to many observers. The combined effects of fear, loneliness, grief, stress, and boredom caused by an 11-month pandemic have impacted the health of almost all Americans, regardless of their age.
In a November 2020 American Psychological Association poll, 74% of psychologists surveyed said they saw an increase in patients with anxiety during the pandemic, and 60% said they saw an increase in patients with depression. Last August, the CDC reported that one in four young adults said they had thought about suicide in the past month (the survey was conducted in June).
Experts are grappling with tackling such a staggering increase in mental health problems. When the researchers encouraged some of the participants to increase their activity levels in the summer, they found that it did not improve their mental health.
While there is no clear, immediate solution, Saccardo says that speaking openly and honestly about the problem could be crucial.
“So many people are affected by this pandemic in so many ways, but mental health is really one of the most important ways that people are affected,” Saccardo says or speaking to someone about it could be very important. ”