3 in 4 NUS students at risk of depression as a result of pandemic, measures imposed: NUHS study

Researchers said an alarming 83.3 per cent also reported experiencing high levels of stress, while over half felt lonely. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About three in four National University of Singapore (NUS) students were at risk of depression as a result of the pandemic and restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, a study has found.

Researchers at the National University Health System's Mind Science Centre said an alarming 83.3 per cent also reported experiencing high levels of stress, while more than half felt lonely.

The study had examined the psychological impact of the pandemic and the two-month long restrictions imposed during the circuit breaker in 2020 on 390 university students and their families.

Students from families that could not adjust to change, did not compromise and could not work together to solve problems experienced more severe depressive symptoms, said Assistant Professor Wilson Tam, principal investigator of the study, which was published in November last year.

"Unlike young children, who usually benefit from spending more time with their family members, more time with family can be worse for young adults because of gaps in communication with seniors," he added.

During the circuit breaker, families clocked an average 12.7 hours together each day, up from 5.6 hours.

Prof Tam said families who were less flexible about family roles, rules and leadership were more prone to higher levels of conflict. This could increase the risk for depressive symptoms in individuals.

He noted that students who could communicate better across generations came from more flexible and cohesive families.

These young adults were able to cope better with the psychological impact of the circuit breaker.

While spending more time together amid the lockdown contributed to higher stress, the researchers noted that it also led to some families becoming more flexible.

It could be due to opportunities to facilitate changes in leadership, roles and rules in the family, they said in the study.

The students who participated in the online survey were on average about 21 years old and 115 were male. They were from different faculties.

Prof Tam said it was representative of the university's demographic, given that there are slightly more females in the university's student population.

About 92.1 per cent, or 359 students, lived with parents and/or grandparents during the circuit breaker while the rest were in the residential halls during the period.

Prof Tam said the impact of the partial lockdown is unique to Singapore as most university students here had to live with their parents during the circuit breaker. In contrast, young adults their age in many other countries could opt to stay in student halls or rental apartments.

The Mind Science Centre has since used these findings to launch two pilots aimed at improving communication between young people and seniors, he added.

Said Prof Tam: "Even during our pilots, the students have told us that they don't know how to communicate with the elderly because they don't know what to say or they think seniors are not interested in what they have to say.

"So we are helping them to take the first step to improve their communication skills."

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