Mental health impacts of COVID may linger for NJ middle schoolers

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Two years in the making, a study published by Montclair State University shows the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on thousands of college students in New Jersey and New York.

The concern now is whether some of the reported impacts will turn out to be long-term problems.

“We have a follow-up of this sample that we will be working on,” said Carrie Masia, the study’s lead author and professor of psychology at Montclair.

Across all areas, regardless of race or ethnicity, students reported a dramatic impact on their mental health when the pandemic first hit the North East and sent schools, businesses and homes in lock mode.

Most said they were more depressed or depressed, and 75% said they felt more anxious. Additionally, a majority reported sleep problems and/or feelings of hopelessness.

Jazmin Reyes-Portillo, also lead author, noted that these factors can all increase the risk of having suicidal thoughts or behaviors in students.

“But young adulthood is a high-risk time for the onset of mental health issues, even without a major stressor like the pandemic,” Reyes-Portillo said. “This is a time of immense growth and personal change. Add in COVID, and it’s a once-in-100-year event that we felt was important to highlight.”

Students of color have been disproportionately impacted by financial stressors caused by the pandemic, the study found. Compared to white students, they reported at the time a lower likelihood of expecting to complete the spring 2020 semester.

More than 4,700 students from public, private and private institutions were interviewed for the study, the largest of its kind. Montclair and Rutgers were the only Garden State schools used for research.

Masia said that ideally the symptoms caused by the pandemic have eased over time for students, but not everyone can bounce back easily.

“It’s our future generation,” Masia said. “We have clearly documented that universities need to be careful and make sure they are reaching out to these students to help them through this difficult time.”

“We can see the repercussions of this for years,” she said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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