Research study launched to understand and address student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

While student mental health is not a new issue, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted the mental health of university students. Amidst online classes and assignments, students are forced to grapple with feelings of isolation and anxiety.

In an effort to address this ongoing student mental health crisis, Harvard University and the World Health Organization have launched an international study called the World Mental Health International College Student survey. The study will survey post-secondary students across fifteen countries.

Dr. Daniel Vigo, along with the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, is leading the Canadian side of the study. Marisa Young, associate professor of sociology at McMaster University and a Canada research chair in mental health and work-life transitions, is leading the study at McMaster.

This study is being conducted with support from the Student Wellness Centre and the McMaster Office of Institutional Research and Analysis.

According to Young, much of the research being conducted will allow the team to reach students with a range of different experiences to gain a better understanding of McMaster’s entire student population. Young hoped that this information can then be translated into ways to help students during COVID-19.

“The goal is to work with the Student Wellness Centre, which has been really integral in getting the study off the ground,” said Young.

Allison Leanage, a PhD candidate at McMaster has been involved with the administration of the survey. She explained that the study consists of a survey that is sent out to a randomly selected group of students. The survey asks questions about social relationships, substance use, the impacts of virtual schooling and general mental health.

“The impact of the survey is to gather more information about how students are impacted in their social settings and how mental health services can understand their situations, [which can] help improve those services,” said Leanage.

“The impact of the survey is to gather more information about how students are impacted in their social settings and how mental health services can understand their situations, [which can] help improve those services,” said Leanage.


Much of the interest surrounding this study comes from the fact that students across the world will be surveyed and studied. A standardized set of questions will be asked to each student, allowing answers to be compared once the study concludes.

According to Young, using a standardized survey to acquire data in so many different countries will help researchers to draw more accurate comparisons.

“There are a variety of measures that we use to understand psychological distress across cultures and across countries, which is great in a number of respects, but sometimes can lose the powerful comparison properties,” Young explained.

Young also explained that the international status of the survey might benefit McMaster students more directly as well.

“Being on an international level, the attention [to the study] will be so much more impactful,” Young explained. “The voices of those leading the efforts at McMaster will be louder because of the international presence,” she added.

Given the mental health crisis that university students are currently facing, this study has the potential to improve the experiences of students around the world, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t mean to fill your email box with just another call for a survey. We truly believe that this is going to have impacts for students at McMaster,” Young said.

“We don’t mean to fill your email box with just another call for a survey. We truly believe that this is going to have impacts for students at McMaster,” Young said.

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