Unpacking the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: identifying structural domains

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Kaitlin E. Bountress, Shannon E. Cusack, Abigail H. Conley, Steven H. Aggen, Jasmin Vassileva, Danielle M. Dick, Ananda B. Amstadter & The Spit for Science Working Group



Background: The novel coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic is a collective crisis that imposed an abrupt and unprecedented impact on college students, as universities were closed with little warning. Paired with the challenges associated with physical distancing (e.g. economic stress, job loss, food insecurity, housing challenges) and the simultaneous need to balance continued and new academic demands, impact will be wide-ranging. It is critical to determine the structure of the impact of this heterogeneous stressor (e.g. health concerns, pandemic worry, financial concerns) for prevention and intervention planning.

Objective: Through an existing recruitment pipeline we were in a unique position to study the wide-ranging reach of this pandemic in a cohort of students for whom their university experiences were like no other cohort in history.

Method: Data were collected from students who were in their third year of college during the onset of the pandemic; of the N = 1,899 in the cohort who were invited to participate in this COVID-related survey, 897 (47.2%) completed measures of impact between May and July of 2020.

Results: A series of confirmatory and exploratory models were fit to examine the structure of the pandemic-related domains. Following estimation of a single-factor model, a correlated five factors model, as well as two second-order factor structures, the five correlated factors (exposure, worry, housing/food instability, social media, substance use) model was found to represent the data most appropriately, while producing an interpretable solution.

Conclusions: These measurement model analyses set the stage for future research to examine how these correlated factors impact psychiatric, substance, and academic outcomes in this vulnerable population.

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