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Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in December 2019, public health agencies have urged countries around the world to put in place quarantine and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the virus. In this study, we explored the impact of these measures on the mental health of Canadian university students. We conducted an online survey of 638 students at the University of Alberta and asked them to answer questions about their mental health (depression measured using the MDI and anxiety measured using the GAD-7), online/physical contact, online learning, COVID-19 knowledge and first-hand experience, and other demographic factors that may have impacted their mental health during the first six months of the pandemic period (March – August 2020). We found that anxiety and depression were not significantly associated with demographic factors or average amounts of online/physical contact. However, students tended to have less symptoms of anxiety and depression if they preferred taking online course, believed they could achieve their goals, and were satisfied with university/government performance. In contrast, they had greater symptoms of anxiety and depression if they felt that the pandemic resulted in greater changes to their daily lives or they felt at risk of contracting the virus. Our results provide insight into the experience of university students during the first wave of the pandemic. We additionally discuss the implications of our research on ways to mitigate mental health concerns faced by students.
Keywords: university students, COVID-19, anxiety, depression, online contact, online education