University of Central Missouri: UCM Faculty Research Article in ‘Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare’ Demonstrates Perceived Psychological Impact of COVID-19 on ‘College Athletes’

For college athletes and members of other student groups the perceived anxiety surrounding the beginning of a new academic year in times of COVID-19 evokes emotions some students equate with those associated with major events such as a significant injury, surgery, or even losing a loved one. These are among the findings reported in a recent research paper published in the “Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare” conducted by a research team that included three University of Central Missouri faculty members, a former graduate assistant, and a faculty member at an Ohio institution.

The article, titled “Change -Event Steals ‘Athlete” from ‘College Athlete’: Perceived Impact and Depression, Anxiety and Stress,” was published on July 14, 2021. The research paper was produced by a team led by Matthew Garver, associate professor and chair of the UCM School of Nutrition, Kinesiology, and Psychological Science, with school faculty members, Aqualus Gordon and Amanda Wakeman; Nicolas Phillip, a former UCM graduate student who is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Kansas; and Matt Huml, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati.

In their study, which included student athletes, Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) members, marching band, and Esports team members, the researchers noted students arrived in the fall of 2020 with much uncertainty about what the pandemic would mean for their participation in workouts, practices, rehearsals, and competitions. To assess the impact of this major-change event on mental health, the research team conducted a survey between mid-August and early October 2020. A total of 249 participants volunteered for the research, which was approved by the UCM Institutional Review Board Human Subjects Committee.

“The focus was to gather data on how athletes were feeling during this moment in time. We also wanted them to think back and perceive or surmise what in their life felt similar to this,” Garver said. “A survey tool was used to collect answers to 37 different questions, many of those related to academics, what they perceived was the impact of this change-event, and specifically their depression, anxiety, and stress symptomatology.”

The assessment of students’ psychological well-being was taken from the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21, Garver said. The data indicated the pandemic resulted in major life changes for many of the students surveyed which contributed to elevated levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Over 69% of the total participants indicated that “a lot has changed” in their lives while an additional 24% noted that “some things have changed.” Also of note was the higher perception of stress in the female population, possibly due to the lesser likelihood of the male population to report their mental health concerns, the researchers noted.

Part of the survey involved open-ended questions in which students used words to describe their feelings in the midst of the crisis. Words most frequently used were “disappointed,” “upset,” “frustrated,” and “sad,” according to the study. In equating the magnitude of their emotions, some respondents also used phrases like “having no purpose” and described the life-changing events associated with COVID-19 as “nothing they have ever experienced before.” This helped to confirm the hypothesis that the modal terms would align with depressive and stress symptomatology. The data presented in the article and the ideas posed in the discussion indicate that in times of major life-changing events, such as a pandemic, campus leaders should be prepared to aid students with issues pertaining to mental health, the researchers stated.

The “Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare” is a publication of Dove Medical Press Ltd, and is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, the Academic Publishing Division of Informa PLC. This group specializes in peer-reviewed journals across science, technology, and medicine. Through Dove Medical Press, open-access academic papers from across the globe are available to users for reading.

“One main benefit of the ‘Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare’ is that it is open access, so, there is not going to be anybody that gets access to solely the abstract and then has to interpret what the authors might have intended. Anyone can instantly get access from start to finish, from the title to the references,” Garver said. “We hope they look at the abstract, gain interest and then go in and find our methodology, look at our background, figure out the discussion.”

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