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Study: 40% ag students experience depression during pandemic

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The pandemic shocked the higher education system in the U.S. and placed unforeseen stresses on student learning and personal well-being. For some, it even disrupted education and career plans. A new study shows a major decline in agricultural students’ mental health over the course of the pandemic. The study reports that over 40% of agricultural undergraduate students were likely to be suffering from moderate to severe depression after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the recently published article, “U.S. Agricultural University Students’ Mental Wellbeing and Resilience During the First Wave of COVID-19: Discordant expectations and experiences across genders” Mariah Ehmke from the University of Wyoming, Bhagyashree Katare from Purdue University, Kristen Kiesel from the University of California, Davis, Jason Bergtold from Kansas State University, Jerrod Penn from Louisiana State University, and Kathryn Boys from North Carolina State University examine the role of personal, social, and environmental resiliency factors and resources on students’ self-assessment of their mental health during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ehmke says, “The study found there was a significant difference in agricultural students’ mental health across genders in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Other findings include:

  • Women were much more likely, in general, to be at risk of depression and had lower life satisfaction than male students. Yet, there are personal and environmental factors that helped to dampen the mental health adversity and increase the likelihood of students’ resilience during the first wave.”
  • For female students, access to adequate food and housing (e.g., food and housing security), and fewer COVID-related risks to themselves and their family decreased the likelihood they suffered from depression and increased the likelihood they reported higher life satisfaction.
  • Men tended to be less affected by their own health risks, but were adversely affected if they had family members at higher risk of COVID complications. Undergraduate men with graduate school or other professional degree aspirations were more likely than women to suffer from depression during the first wave.
  • The analysis also found that international students were less likely to be depressed and more likely to have a higher life satisfaction during this time.

Ehmke explained, “A number of environmental resiliency factors were associated with improvements in mental health for men and women. Both men’s and women’s risk of depression was lower if they also reported a positive on-line learning experience during Spring 2020 and they felt connected to their community and friends. Experiences with discrimination were negatively associated with improved mental health outcomes for both men and women, and positively associated lower life satisfaction for women.”

Surveys of students in Colleges of Agriculture at six universities were used to collect data concerning student experiences during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring 2020 semester. The study found that personal and environmental resiliency variables affected male and female students’ mental health and life satisfaction differently. Read the full study here.

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