Two years in the making, a published study out of Montclair State University shows the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on thousands of college students in New Jersey and New York.

The concern now is whether some of the reported impacts will prove to be long-term problems.

"We have a follow-up of this sample that we are going to work on," said Carrie Masia, a lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at Montclair.

Across the board, regardless of race or ethnicity, students reported a tremendous impact on their mental health when the pandemic first hit the Northeast and sent schools, businesses and homes into lockdown mode.

Most reported being more depressed or down, and 75% reported feeling more anxious. In addition, a majority reported sleep problems and/or a sense of hopelessness.

Jazmin Reyes-Portillo, also a lead author, noted that these factors all can heighten students' risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

"But young adulthood is a high-risk period for the onset of mental health problems, even without a major stressor like the pandemic," Reyes-Portillo said. "It's a period of immense growth and personal change. Add in COVID, and it's a one-in-100-year event that we felt was important to highlight."

Students of color were disproportionately impacted by financial stressors caused by the pandemic, the study suggests. Compared to white students, they reported at the time a lower likelihood of expecting to complete the spring 2020 semester.

More than 4,700 students from both public private and private institutions were surveyed for the study, the largest of its kind. Montclair and Rutgers were the only Garden State schools used for the research.

Masia said ideally, symptoms caused by the pandemic have eased over time for students, but not everyone can easily rebound.

"This is our future generation," Masia said. "Clearly we have documented that universities have to pay attention and make sure they're reaching these students to get them over this difficult time."

"We may see the reverberations of this for years," she said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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