Pandemic causes high impact on mental health of graduate students, says study

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The Covid-19 pandemic brought insecurities, uncertainties and exposed weaknesses in the mental health widely across the world. For graduate students, who live with a routine of deadlines, a large amount of reading and text production, the moment brought significant impacts associated especially with the pressure for productivity.

This is what reveals a study with almost 6 thousand participants, from all regions of the country, carried out with the participation of researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC/Fiocruz) and the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

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Among other data, the survey points out that 45% of students were diagnosed with generalized anxiety and 17% with depression during the first year of the pandemic. In addition, more than 60% reported anxiety attacks and difficulty sleeping. Lack of motivation and concentration problems were reported by almost 80%.

O study was developed in the Graduate Program in Teaching in Biosciences and Health at the IOC, with results published in the scientific journal International Journal of Educational Research Open.

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The data show the stressful situation faced by students during the pandemic, as explained by the first author of the article, Roberta Pires Corrêa. “The students experienced uncertainty, fear and loss, in the stressful context of graduate school, where there is a lot of pressure to be productive and meet deadlines. One third needed to seek psychological care and a small portion, almost 17%, used anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication without a prescription,” says Roberta.

Data were collected between October and December 2020, revealing an overview of the first year of the pandemic, when face-to-face activities were completely suspended in courses. Approximately 80% of students had to change their research projects, with 9% changing their studies completely, 35% making significant changes and 37% minor changes.

The research also points out how students had to adapt to a new work configuration, with virtual meetings with advisors and remote classes. The researcher at the Laboratory of Innovations in Therapies, Teaching and Bioproducts of IOC/Fiocruz, Paulo Soares Stephens, senior author of the work, says that the students remained committed to their academic path, despite the difficulties. “They proved to be tough and creative in readjusting their activities. However, they were affected with high levels of mental health problems”, evaluates Paulo.

emotional support

Among students who sought emotional support, more than half turned to friends, the study found. About 15% sought their advisors. Only 1%, student support committees. Most students also did not seek coordination of the postgraduate course and 5% said they had not received support, despite the request.

According to researchers, studies prior to the pandemic already showed that mental health problems are more frequent among graduate students than in the general population. The health emergency aggravated the situation, reinforcing the importance of reception services.

“About 10% of students said that the course coordinators offered support to students through specific programs. These actions are essential and the programs must invest more and more in them”, says Paulo.

“It is important that the courses maintain these programs on an ongoing basis, so that students feel welcomed and have confidence that they can discuss mental health issues without prejudice”, adds Roberta.

Profile of graduate students

The study had the participation of 5,985 students, who answered an online form from October to December 2020. Of the total, 94% were enrolled in courses stricto sensu, 51% in the master’s and 43% in the doctorate. Almost 6% were students of specialization courses, called Lato sensu🇧🇷

In general, the profile of respondents reflects that of graduate students in the country. The survey reached all regions and had the participation of students enrolled in courses in different areas of knowledge. About 50% of respondents were young, aged between 18 and 30 years old; 70%, women; and 30% men.

The published article is part of the thesis defended by Roberta Corrêa, in the Graduate Program in Teaching in Biosciences and Health at IOC/Fiocruz. The project was supervised by Professor Helena Carla Castro, head of the Laboratory of Antibiotics, Biochemistry and Molecular Modeling at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), and co-supervised by Paulo Stephens and Roberto Ferreira, postdoctoral fellow at IOC/Fiocruz.

The work is also part of a broader research project on the impacts of Covid-19 and social isolation, coordinated by IOC director Tania Araujo-Jorge. The research was supported by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj) and UFF.

(With information from the Oswaldo Cruz Institute)

Source: CNN Brasil

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