Knowledge Is Power Against COVID-19

A study in China advises psychoeducational interventions for student well-being.

Posted Jun 10, 2020

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

by Stuart Jacobson

Co-parenting two teen daughters forced to shelter at home and finish the school year online for the past several months from 1,700 miles away is impossible and unbearable. Fortunately, the girls have a proven leader and provider for a mother, with many close relatives and friends nearby in case of emergency. According to the CDC in 2017, there were approximately 790,000 divorces filed in the U.S. I wonder if other divorced families are as fortunate in these circumstances? If your answer is no, don’t panic. Help is on the way.

Chinese researcher Cuiyan Wang has identified helpful and effective well-being strategies:

“Major cities in China have shut down schools at all levels indefinitely. The uncertainty and potential negative impact on academic progression could have an adverse effect on the mental health of students. During the epidemic, education authorities need to develop online portals and web-based applications to deliver lectures or other teaching activities. As young people are more receptive towards smartphone applications, health authorities could consider providing online or smartphone-based psychoeducation and psychological interventions (e.g., cognitive behavior therapy, CBT).”

Approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Huaibei Normal University, China, in accordance with the principles embodied in the Declaration of Helsinki, the first psychological impact and mental health survey was conducted in the general population in China within the first two weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak. This study aimed to identify common psychiatric symptoms, risk factors, and protective factors contributing to psychological stress. The results may assist government agencies and healthcare professionals in safeguarding the psychological wellbeing of the community in China and different parts of the world.

Hailing from 194 cities in China, 1,210 people participated in the cross-sectional study which assessed the public’s immediate psychological response during the epidemic targeting university students and the general public.

An anonymous online questionnaire completed in Chinese using snowball sampling techniques was administered through an online survey platform (‘SurveyStar,’ Changsha Ranxing Science and Technology, Shanghai, China) first to university students, then the general public. Survey respondents were encouraged to forward surveys to other people in their network. The survey collected information on demographic data and physical symptoms in the past 14 days including contact history with COVID-19, knowledge and concerns about COVID-19, precautionary measures against COVID-19, and additional information required with respect to COVID-19. The psychological impact was assessed by the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), and mental health status was assessed by the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-21). Data collection took place from January 31-February 2, 2020, after the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be an international public health emergency.

I recall barely acknowledging China announcing the situation, thinking to myself, the “corona-what-virus?” I thought it was something only Chinese people had to deal with. Unfortunately, the U.S. also declared the virus a public health emergency in early March. I had no idea our lives would be turned upside down and we'd be forced to shelter in our homes. More astonishing and upsetting to me was not hearing from our leaders of government and national health centers about the valuable information discovered more than a month before they locked America down. Here’s what Wang found about other reactions to COVID-19:

“53.8% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as moderate or severe; 16.5% reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms; 28.8% reported moderate to severe anxiety symptoms; and 8.1% reported moderate to severe stress levels. Most respondents spent 20–24 hours per day at home (84.7%); were worried about their family members contracting COVID-19 (75.2%); and were satisfied with the amount of health information available (75.1%). Female gender, student status, specific physical symptoms (e.g., myalgia, dizziness, coryza), and poor self-rated health status were significantly associated with a greater psychological impact of the outbreak and higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Specific up-to-date and accurate health information (e.g., treatment, local outbreak situation) and particular precautionary measures (e.g., hand hygiene, wearing a mask) were associated with a lower psychological impact of the outbreak and lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.”

As most U.S. cities and states continue extending lockdown orders with no real end in sight, psychological damage to our mental well-being continues compounding. Although the U.S. is a bit late in the game, with 1.3 million-plus persons infected, shouldn’t we conduct a similar survey to identify high-risk groups like my teenage daughters? The results would provide vital guidance for the development of psychological support strategies and areas to prioritize early interventions to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. A Wall Street Journal article indicated that China had only 88,000-plus persons infected and most of the country’s citizens had been freed from lockdowns. Being the home of the brave and proud is causing harm to innocent children.

Stuart Jacobson is a graduate student in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. He is a disaster recovery volunteer with Send Relief and a transformational community development intern with One Collective.


Cuiyan Wang, et al. “Immediate Psychological Responses and Associated Factors during the Initial Stage of the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Epidemic among the General Population in China” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health