Their research findings are published in the journal Stress and Brain on Nov. 22, 2022.
Since the arrival of Covid-19 in December 2019, researchers have studied, not only the impact of the pandemic on people’s physical health, but also its impacts on people’s mental health. Studies have already been conducted focusing on the relationship between anxiety, depression, and stress in children, undergraduate students, the elderly, and the general population. However, scientists had not yet conducted studies focused on graduate students. Previous studies have shown that in general, postgraduate students have poorer mental health, compared to medical students and residents. So because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the research team viewed postgraduate students as an at-risk group that merited their study.
With the arrival of the first omicron variant strain in Shanghai in May 2022, many universities in the city went into static management, or campus enclosed management, for several months. The team focused their study on the postgraduate students at these universities impacted by the static managements. Previous research showed that because of the static managements, most people had moderate to high levels of stress. The team conducted an online survey to assess the level of social support, stress, anxiety, and depression the postgraduate students at several Shanghai universities experienced during the pandemic static management period. The 110 students in the study completed a series of online questionnaires related to current life stress and social support, a generalized anxiety disorder survey, and an overall student health survey.
The researchers noted that the changes in daily routines, such as variations in sleep, physical activity and diet, brought on by the static management, could lead to chronic stress. These factors contributed to a long-lasting poor quality of life for the students. Chronic stress has proven to be closely related to diseases such as burnout and depression. “Life stress in the background of the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to obvious symptoms of anxiety and depression,” said Ti-Fei Yuan, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.
The team’s results showed that the interaction between life stress and social support had a strong predictive effect on the level of anxiety. A high level of social support can ease the impact of life stress on anxiety levels.
The team also investigated the influence of the students’ social support on the connection between life stress and depression. Their results showed that life stress and social support can be combined to predict depression level. A high level of social support can weaken the connection between life stress and depression. They noted that students with a higher level of social support had milder symptoms of anxiety and depression. These findings reveal the protective function of social support on a person’s mental health.
From a practical standpoint, the team acknowledges that graduate students would benefit from enhanced social support. Universities could provide services that improve the social support for graduate students. “Universities should encourage more social activities to enable more available social support, which would help to alleviate the risk of anxiety and depression during the campus static management management period,” said Yuan.
“These results can help us better understand the relationship between graduate students’ life stress, social support level, anxiety level, and depression level during the epidemic,” said Yuan. Looking ahead to future research, the team hope to conduct interviews to gain a deeper insight into the students’ actual living situation, as well as their feelings and thoughts.
The research team includes Yuanyuan Yin from Wenzhou Medical University School of Psychiatry, and Xinyu Cheng, Ziqi Liu, and Ti-Fei Yuan from Shanghai Key Laboratory of Psychotic Disorders, Shanghai Mental Health Center, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, and Jianyin Qiu, Shanghai Mental Health Center, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.
About Stress and Brain
Brain is the central organ coping with the internal and external stress, and stress persistently affects the function and health of brain. Stress and Brain (Published by Tsinghua University Press) is an interdisciplinary journal publishing investigations related to the intercommunications between stress and nervous system that are of general interest to the community of brain researcher. Its scope is broad and includes reviewed papers and research articles dealing with basic, translational and clinical research on all aspects of stress neurobiology, with particular focus on the impact of stress on brain at levels ranging from genetics, molecular biology to brain imaging and behavior.
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