COVID-19 could be affecting more than just students’ college experience, it could be impacting their media consumption and psychological health.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, researchers have been studying the relationship between media consumption and student behavior. The general consensus among researchers has been that students’ levels of anxiety and depression have increased along with media consumption, particularly social media.
A recent research study conducted by Virginia Pressly from The University of Southern Mississippi provides data that supports this consensus. Before the pandemic, the study concluded that over 50% of students already spent three to four hours on social media. Pressly determined that the added stress from the pandemic caused students to turn toward social media, and that over half of the 78 respondents reported they now spent six to seven hours on social media since the pandemic began.
Furthermore, Pressly’s study explains that the increased use of social media also led to increased negative psychological effects. Pressly’s data showed that the majority of the students that responded showed increases in stress by about 41% and anxiety by about 34%.
Pressly’s study, among others, sheds light to an ongoing issue since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health issues are reaching highs for all age demographics. The CDC released reports stating that 40% of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse in 2020.
Brett Sherrick, a Purdue communication professor, said it’s important to recognize that while social media can have some negative effects, there’s always more to the story.
“They have certainly some negative effects,” Sherrick said. “They have some positive effects (and) they have some neutral effects. So it’s probably important to ask what the content is like (and) what the interaction is like."
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag.”
Sherrick went on to give examples for how social media can actually be beneficial to students during the pandemic.
“People are motivated to sort of improve their own well being, now, that doesn’t mean that others in specific cases aren’t seeing negative effects,” Sherrick said. “Social distancing and physical distancing of the last year and a half have shown that social media can provide a lot of benefit for us if we use it in appropriate ways.”
Josh Martin, a senior in mass communication, said he felt some extra stress regarding the hostility and false information that can be spread on social media.
“You read it constantly even if you’re like, ‘It’s bigger than me, I’m not going to worry about it this second.’ It will still eat at you, I think,” Martin said. “That weighed on me personally quite a bit.”