From the Experts

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health in College Students

General Impact

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of students across the United States have had to adjust to an online educational format. In March, many colleges forced their students off-campus within the span of a few days. Thus, the college experience was transformed into classes at childhood homes with little social interaction. In turn, this drastic change in learning has impacted college students’ mental health. Students from different universities have shared their feelings about online school and its impact on their emotional health and wellbeing. A recent study assessed 195 students at a Texas university that closed all campuses in March (Son et al., 2020). The vast majority of respondents expressed increased levels of stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher stress levels among this group are associated with increased levels of depressive thoughts (Son et al., 2020). Additionally, 91% of students reported fear and worry about their health and the health of their loved ones amidst the public health crisis (Son et al., 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has detrimentally impacted higher education, demonstrating the urgent need to develop interventions and preventative strategies to address the mental health of college students (Son et al., 2020). Michigan State University has adjusted to the changing academic circumstances by offering more mental health services, as there was a significant increase in their usage this summer compared to last year (Ciechalski et al., 2020). COVID-19 has impacted our need to adjust and adapt to a different lifestyle at a rapid pace. Responding to the changing environment can be overwhelming, especially as we come across more unfamiliar situations with the progression of the pandemic (Wiles, 2020). 

Pros and Cons to Online School

Many students have reported feelings of isolation due to the lack of in-person relationships and face-to-face interactions with digital learning (Wiles, 2020). Increased screen time has negatively impacted student health, causing headaches, fatigue, lack of motivation, procrastination, avoidance, ineffective time management, and minimized awareness and understanding of others (Wiles, 2020). As schools increasingly adopt an online format, and several students require counseling and psychiatric services, it has become difficult for students to easily access these resources. However, there are advantages to online learning. Digital education can increase students’ levels of safety and allow them to willingly engage with learning materials from a comforting space (Wiles, 2020). This learning style also alleviates strict schedules, as many professors record lectures or conduct asynchronous sessions. Additionally, professors are understanding of this unprecedented situation and emphasize taking breaks to enhance student wellbeing. Lastly, online learning helps students practice effective time management through the “work at your own pace” model (Wiles, 2020). Establishing school routines are important coping mechanisms for young people with mental health issues. If adjustments to these new settings are not made, students could lose an anchor in their life and symptoms could worsen (Lee, 2020).

Psychological Resilience and Adjustment

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people, especially students, to adjust to different social and academic situations and build resilience. Improved psychological resilience has been shown through social factors and daily activities including daily sunshine for at least 10 minutes, daily exercise, perceived family and friend support, and low severity of insomnia (Killgore et al., 2020). Additionally, students have sought support from others and adopted positive or negative coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety (Son et. al, 2020). Flexibility is another important factor that allows for adaptation and strategy modification. This is a fundamental component of resilience, especially for college students (Chen & Bonanno, 2020). Moreover, mental health services at schools have utilized telehealth to continue providing students with counseling services and support groups while creating task forces dedicated to mental health (Ciechalski et al., 2020). Also, for students whose home environments are toxic and abusive, universities have reached out to students through the expansion of their social media presence and sent encouraging messages over the past few months. Bolstering psychological resilience should be a primary public health emphasis during the COVID-19 pandemic (Killgore et al., 2020). Those who actively engage in outdoor activities, exercise, and spiritual health tend to be the most resilient to the challenges to mental health imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic (Killgore et al., 2020).


Mental health is a prevalent public health issue that is increasingly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among college students across the United States. Initiatives must be taken to encourage psychological resilience and provide mental health services to those in need. Now more than ever, it is crucial that every college student has a support system and can adapt to these unprecedented times.


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COVID-19: A resilience perspective. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice,

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Ciechalski, S., Walters, S., & Kaufman, S. (2020, September 3). College students brace for the

‘second curve’ of COVID-19 – its mental health impact.

Killgore, W., Taylor, E. C., Cloonan, S. A., & Dailey, N. S. (2020). Psychological resilience during

the COVID-19 lockdown. Psychiatry research, 291, 113216.

Lee, J. (2020). Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19. The Lancet Child 

Adolescent Health, 4(6), 421.  

Son C, Hegde S, Smith A, Wang X, Sasangohar F. (2020, September). Effects of COVID-19 on

College Students’ Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study. J Med

Internet Res 2020;22(9):e21279.

Wiles, G. (2020, July 30). Students share impact of online classes on their mental health. 

Students share impact of online classes on their mental health – The State News.

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