Psychological distress among health professional students during the COVID-19 outbreak

Yuchen Li, Yue Wang, Jingwen Jiang, Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir, Katja Fall, Fang Fang, Huan Song, Donghao Lu, Wei Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Due to the drastic surge of COVID-19 patients, many countries are considering or already graduating health professional students early to aid professional resources. We aimed to assess outbreak-related psychological distress and symptoms of acute stress reaction (ASR) in health professional students and to characterize individuals with potential need for interventions. Methods: We conducted a prospective cohort study of 1442 health professional students at Sichuan University, China. At baseline (October 2019), participants were assessed for childhood adversity, stressful life events, internet addiction, and family functioning. Using multivariable logistic regression, we examined associations of the above exposures with subsequent psychological distress and ASR in response to the outbreak. Results: 384 (26.63%) participants demonstrated clinically significant psychological distress, while 160 (11.10%) met criteria for a probable ASR. Individuals who scored high on both childhood adversity and stressful life event experiences during the past year were at increased risks of both distress (ORs 2.00-2.66) and probable ASR (ORs 2.23-3.10), respectively. Moreover, internet addiction was associated with elevated risks of distress (OR 2.05, 95% CI 1.60-2.64) and probable ASR (OR 2.15, 95% CI 1.50-3.10). By contrast, good family functioning was associated with decreased risks of distress (OR 0.43, 95% CI 0.33-0.55) and probable ASR (OR 0.48, 95% CI 0.33-0.69). All associations were independent of baseline psychological distress. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that COVID-19 related psychological distress and high symptoms burden of ASR are common among health professional students. Extended family and professional support should be considered for vulnerable individuals during these unprecedented times.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81801359 to Dr Lu), Swedish Research Council (No. 2018-00648 to Dr Lu), West China Hospital COVID-19 Epidemic Science and Technology Project (No. HX-2019-nCoV-019 to Dr Zhang), and Sichuan University Emergency Grant (No. 2020scunCoVyingji1005 to Dr Zhang).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Other keywords

  • Vanlíðan
  • Nemendur
  • COVID-19


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