Depressive symptoms in higher education students during the COVID-19 pandemic: the role of containment measures

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Buffel V., Van de Velde S., AKVARDAR Y. , Bask M., Brault M., Busse H., ...More

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, vol.32, pp.481-487, 2022 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 32
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.1093/eurpub/ckac026
  • Page Numbers: pp.481-487
  • Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, depressive symptoms, higher education students, government containment and economic support measures, comparative cross-country research, UNIVERSITY


Background Students are a vulnerable group for the indirect impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly their mental health. This paper examined the cross-national variation in students' depressive symtoms and whether this can be related to the various protective measures implemented in response to the initial stage of the COVID-19 outbreak. Methods Student data stem from the COVID-19 International Student Well-being Study, covering 26 countries during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Country-level data on government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were retrieved from the Oxford COVID-19 Tracker. Multilevel analyses were performed to estimate the impact of the containment and economic support measures on students' depressive symptoms (n = 78 312). Results School and workplace closures, and stay-at-home restrictions were positively related to students' depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, while none of the economic support measures significantly related to depressive symptoms. Countries' scores on the index of these containment measures explained 1.5% of the cross-national variation in students' depressive symptoms (5.3%). This containment index's effect was stable, even when controlling for the economic support index, students' characteristics, and countries' epidemiological context and economic conditions. Conclusions Our findings raise concerns about the potential adverse effects of existing containment measures (especially the closure of schools and workplaces and stay-at-home restrictions) on students' mental health.