College Students’ Sense of Belonging and Mental Health Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Gopalan et al. / Journal of Adolescent Health / December 2021

Student Technology

Social isolation, anxiety, and depression have significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic among college students. The authors examine a key protective factor—students’ sense of belonging with their college—to understand (1) how belongingness varies overall and for key sociodemographic groups (first-generation, underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students, first-year students) amidst COVID-19 and (2) if feelings of belonging buffer students from adverse mental health in college. Longitudinal models and regression analysis was assessed using data from a longitudinal study of college students (N = 1,004) spanning (T1; Fall 2019) and amidst COVID-19 (T2; Spring 2020). Despite reporting high levels of belonging pre- and post-COVID, consistent with past research, underrepresented racial/ethnic minority/first-generation students reported relatively lower sense of belonging compared to peers. Feelings of belonging buffered depressive symptoms and to a lesser extent anxiety amidst COVID among all students. College students’ sense of belonging continues to be an important predictor of mental health even amidst the pandemic, conveying the importance of an inclusive climate.