Brooke Jenkins, Julia Boehm
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a turbulent environment, putting college students and their families in unprecedented situations. The rise in unemployment and concerns about the overall economy may be impacting student finances. Increased depression and anxiety are common responses to such stressful situations. However, certain psychosocial factors, such as optimism, may be a valuable resource for coping with stress. Individuals who are more versus less optimistic tend to show less distress and have better physical functioning. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine how college students’ financial situation during the coronavirus pandemic is related to mental and physical health, as well as how optimism moderates this relationship. We hypothesized that worse financial situations would be associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms, but that optimism would buffer against worse outcomes. To investigate these hypotheses, students at a private university in Southern California were recruited through their university email addresses to complete an online questionnaire in the spring of 2020. Nearly 300 students self-reported their financial situation, depression, anxiety, physical symptoms (e.g., nausea, headaches), and optimism. Linear regression models tested associations. Results indicated that, as expected, a worsening financial situation and an increase in worry about paying for school were significantly associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms (ps < 0.05). By contrast, greater optimism was associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms (ps < 0.05). However, the effect of financial situation on students’ mental and physical health did not depend on optimism (ps > 0.05). This may be because students in this study had lower optimism scores relative to pre-pandemic cohorts, suggesting they struggled to be optimistic during the pandemic. Further investigation on how financial situations and optimism relate to mental and physical health is crucial to not only improve the quality of life for college students, but to also help in creating and implementing effective mental and physical health interventions.
Venkatesh, Harshitha V.; Boehm, Julia K.; and Jenkins, Brooke N., "The Coronavirus Pandemic: Associations of College Students' Financial Situations and Optimism with Mental & Physical Health" (2021). Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters. 436.