University Students Experiencing a High Prevalence of Mental Health Symptoms During Global Pandemic

virtual class, students, covid19
A study of French university students during the COVID-19 looked at what factors are associated with the development of mental health symptoms

University students residing in France during quarantine due to the global coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have experienced a high prevalence of mental health issues. These findings, from a cross-sectional survey, were published in JAMA Network Open.

This survey began collecting data at 82 universities throughout France on April 17 2020. Emails were sent to approximately 1,600,000 students inviting them to participate. Students were assessed by the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R), 10-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10), 13-item Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-13), 20-item State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI Y2), and for demographics. A follow-up at 1 year is anticipated.

The survey was completed by 69,054 participants who were majority women (72.8%) with a median age of 20 (interquartile range [IQR], 18-22) years living in urban areas (46.8%). Some of the participants (6.2%) were foreign students. A history of psychiatric follow-up was reported by 10.3% of respondents and COVID-19-like symptoms were reported by 23.5%.

Over a quarter (27.1%) were residing in high-infection regions and 81.8% lived with family members. On a scale of 1-10, students indicated their housing situation was precarious (8, IQR, 7-10) and 21.9% were experiencing a loss of income due to quarantine.

Suicidal thoughts were reported by 11.4%, severe distress by 22.4%, perceived stress by 24.7%, symptoms of depression by 16.1%, and anxiety by 27.5%. Nearly half of students (42.8%) reported at least 1 mental health issue.

A minimum of 1 mental health outcome was associated with the demographic features of women (odds ratio [OR], 2.10; 95% CI, 2.02-2.19; P <.001), nonbinary individuals (OR, 3.57; 95% CI, 2.99-4.27; P <.001), foreign students (OR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.04-1.20; P =.004), and year of study (sixth vs first: OR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.69-0.89; P <.001).

The financial or housing factors which were associated with a minimum of 1 mental health outcome were living in high infection areas (OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.05-1.14; P <.001), loss of job (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.22-1.33; P <.001), quality of housing (low vs high: OR, 2.30; 95% CI, 2.06-2.57; P <.001), and living with a roommate (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.13-1.35; P <.001).

Students who had a history of psychiatric follow-up (OR, 3.28; 95% CI, 3.09-3.48; P <.001), had COVID-19 symptoms (OR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.49-1.61; P <.001), or spent less time doing physical activity (<15 vs 60 min/d: OR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.43-1.58; P <.001) were at increased risk for 1 mental health outcome.

Limitations include the possibility that this study had some selection bias. Also, although the number of respondents was high, the respondent rate only represented 4.3% of the students.

These data found a high incidence of suicidal ideation and severe distress symptoms among university students in France during quarantine due to COVID-19. Special attention should be paid to the students who may be at increased risk for mental health symptoms.

Disclosure: Multiple authors declared affiliations with industry. Please refer to the original article for a full list of disclosures.


Wathelet M, Duhem S, Vaiva G, et al. Factors associated with mental health disorders among university students in France confined during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2025591. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25591