Mental health and resilience experiences of university students

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Mental health and resilience experiences of university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: implications for mental health service delivery and policy development

Team members

  • Dr. Jillian Roberts
  • Bianca Humbert
  • Robyn MacMillan
  • Dr. Celeste Duff

About this project

The goal of this project was to explore the lived experiences of mental health and resilience in university students from diverse communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What led to this project?

The research team found that there was limited knowledge about people from marginalized communities and people with disabilities in post-secondary institutions during emergency situations, like a global pandemic.

Additionally, this research sought to explore how COVID-19-specific university interventions support and promote student’s mental health, and if or how these supports were experienced by the students.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers held in-depth interviews over Zoom with seven undergraduate students between the ages of 19 to 30 who identified as LGBTQ2SIA+, international, students with disabilities, and as being from rural and urban settings.

The key focus of the interviews was to understand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of students, in addition to the importance of students developing resilience to navigate the pandemic.

Project findings

The researchers found that there were four common protective factors that participants used to persevere through their challenging experiences, and in turn, enhance their psychological wellbeing:

Positive relationships

Participants returned home during the pandemic or maintained regular communication with family in order to avoid social isolation. The students also found that receiving the support they needed from teachers and the university to help smooth the transition to online course delivery kept them motivated and engaged.

Perceived efficacy

Many interviewed had adopted an optimistic and resilient mindset. Participants worked on manageable goals, which helped them feel like they were accomplishing their goals. The students were able to acknowledge that they did the best that they could in extraordinary circumstances.

Purpose and ambition

The students found that developing a set of goals could help to enhance a sense of purpose, create healthy habits and build routines.

Sense of normality

When participants felt a lack of normality in their lives, it helped them to recognize that other people around them were navigating similar challenges. This encouraged students to develop a sense of normality and accept their own realities. 

How can you use this research?

The researchers created several recommendations for post-secondary institutions during emergency situations.

  • The research team found that schools should look for ways to better engage and motivate students with their course work to better compensate for the lack of in-person interactions.
  • Further, schools should promote, normalize, and make mental health resources more functional for students in online settings.
  • Lastly, post-secondary institutions should adapt and improve the way materials can be used in online learning settings. The schools should take into account situations like students who are studying in atypical environments and students learning in different time zones.