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Professor Chloe Hamza’s surprising study about postsecondary students and mental health: Toronto Star

October 13, 2020

By Perry King
 

Photo of Professor Chloe Hamza

A new study led by Professor Chloe Hamza (pictured above) found that students with pre-existing mental health concerns are faring similarly, or better, during the pandemic. Meanwhile, students without pre-existing mental health conditions are reporting increasing rates of depressive symptoms and anxiety.


A new study, published by OISE faculty and brought to light in a story in the Toronto Star, has revealed profound findings about postsecondary students and their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

The study, a follow-up survey of 730 University of Toronto students, found that students with pre-existing mental health concerns are faring similarly, or better, during the pandemic – compared to a year ago. Conversely, students without pre-existing mental health conditions reported increasing rates of depressive symptoms and anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

Chloe Hamza, an assistant professor in OISE’s Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development and the lead researcher on the study, concluded that there was a link between social isolation and worsening mental health among university students.

“Students with pre-existing mental health concerns remained at higher risk relative to students without pre-existing mental health concerns. But if we look at change – who worsened in the during the pandemic – it was students without pre-existing mental health concerns,” said Hamza, whose research focuses on the development of mental health concerns in adolescence and emerging adulthood. “That's not to say students without pre-existing mental health concerns are not still at-risk students and in need of concern.”

“It seems like the pandemic hit hardest for students who experienced increasing isolation and disconnection during the pandemic. And that was a real change for them.”


Read more about the study in the Toronto Star 
 

The study, published in early September in the journal Canadian Psychology, comes at the right time. Hamza and her research team have been studying and researching postsecondary student mental health for years. “We were really concerned that COVID-19 would have a profound and adverse negative impact on students – particularly those students who were already struggling,” she said.

It’s an unprecedented time in education, she says, because postsecondary years are already a period of heightened vulnerability and now students are facing many additional stressors and challenges.

That said, Hamza hopes postsecondary institutions takeaway the necessity to address challenges posed to students during the pandemic and beyond.

“I think our findings really speak to the importance of social connectedness. Universities really need to think about how they promote connectedness, and engagement, even in the context of COVID-19,” she says.

“If we know that emerging adulthood is a period that's characterized by increased needs for affiliation, we know that peers are important. How do we promote connection safely?”