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USM study shows increase in mental health issues in students since pandemic began

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 9:16 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - A study conducted among University of Southern Mississippi students showed an increase in mental health issues for students in 2020 compared to 2019.

A psychology professor at USM, along with her research team and a colleague at the University of Texas-El Paso, surveyed a group of 643 students in the fall of 2019, spring 2020 and fall 2020.

According to the university, the study found higher rates of mental health issues, stress and substance abuse in college students in 2020 compared to students in 2019, which was before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States.

“In spring, when everything was just starting, people were reporting increases in things like perceived stress. So how stressed out they feel, as well as some mood disorder symptoms— things like depression — and they were also reporting more indicators of risky alcohol use,” said Nora Charles, assistant professor of psychology at the USM School of Psychology and director of the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program.

Considering the pandemic essentially eliminated most social gatherings, the increased rates of mental health issues among college students may stem from the social scene, or the lack thereof.

“We think that that’s at least a component of why people are feeling worse, that they kind of lost that source of happiness and lost that feeling of being connected to other people,” Charles said.

The good news is, Charles said there are some things people can do to increase their well-being.

“Keeping a schedule,” Charles said. “Get regular exercise, engage in hobbies. So, I really try to encourage people to get their social needs met because we do think that is important. You can engage in pleasurable activities and things like that to try to keep your mood up while we’re still dealing with the pandemic.”

Charles said the study will be extended to include students at the University of Texas-El Paso.

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