Anxiety, depression, and health anxiety in undergraduate students living in initial US outbreak “hotspot” during COVID-19 pandemic

Mindy M. Kibbey, Erick J. Fedorenko, Samantha G. Farris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Evidence of the psychological distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, including depression, anxiety, and health anxiety, has been documented globally. College students are a unique sub-set of the population with consistently elevated psychological distress associated with the pandemic, and well-informed intervention is urgently needed. The current study is the first, to our knowledge, to document the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of undergraduates in a heavily impacted area in the United States. Cross-sectional, self-report data on psychological distress and COVID-19 exposure were collected from a racially and ethnically diverse sample of 641 undergraduates between April 7–9 May 2020. Nearly half of the students reported elevated psychological distress, including health anxiety, general anxiety, and depression. Heightened risk of psychological distress was associated with female sex, a COVID-19 case in one’s immediate social network, underlying medical vulnerabilities, and recent experience of ≥3 viral symptoms. Vigilance to viral symptoms and worry about coronavirus were also factors associated with more severe psychological distress. The current study highlights some of the factors associated with a greater risk of developing psychological distress due to COVID-19 and can be used to inform the dissemination of psychological interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-421
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Behaviour Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


  • COVID-19
  • illness anxiety
  • mental health
  • psychological distress


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