Kent State Graduate Student Wins Award at the Brain Health Research Institute's Eighth Annual Neuroscience Symposium

Congratulations to Cynthia Hunt, a graduate student in Sociology at Kent State University, for her award-winning presentation at the Brain Health Research Institute's Eighth Annual Neuroscience Symposium! Her work was supported by HCRI faculty members, Dr. Christopher Woolverton and Dr. Joel Hughes, among other faculty members and peers, including Dr. Gregory Gibson, Dr. Anthony Vander Horst, Craig Wawrosch, Maya Granot, and Tyler Kuhn. The title of her award-winning work is 'Gender diverse college students had higher psychological distress than cisgender peers during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.' The abstract is included below. Congratulations again on this outstanding work! 

Photo of award winner, Cynthia Hunt

Background: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be the greatest global biopsychosocial stressor in living memory, triggering anticipation of a “mental health pandemic”. Hardly mentioned during the current COVID-19 pandemic is the effect on gender diverse (GD) populations. We compared levels of psychological distress of GD and cisgender college students at a public, R1, four-year university.

Methods: We surveyed all students enrolled at [redacted for blind review] University in three randomly selected cohorts using QualtricsXM. Cohorts were emailed at weekly intervals on March 18, March 25, and April 1 with two reminder emails at weekly intervals. A total of 30,996 undergraduate and graduate students were emailed and 5,547 valid responses were obtained for a response rate of 17.8% (72% female, 85% white). The survey included demographic questions, self-reported risk of contracting COVID-19, and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6;  ± = 0.87). The K6 is used to screen for psychological distress annually in the National Health Interview Survey. A score of 13 or greater indicates severe distress (range 0 to 24). Participants reported their gender as male (1), female (2), non-binary (3) or other (4). “Other” responses indicating GD status were coded as (3). GD individuals (n = 83) were matched with male (n = 83) and female (n = 83) peers on survey cohort (1, 2, or 3), race (White v. Nonwhite), age, and student status (Undergrad v. Grad).

Results: GD students report higher psychological distress (M= 12.33, SD= 6.04) than males (M= 6.7, SD= 5.76) and females (M= 8.70, SD= 6.57), as well as similar perceived risk (p = 0.54). Nearly half (48.2%) of GD individuals were above the cutoff for severe psychological distress.

Conclusions: Findings of our university survey conducted during the novel coronavirus 8 pandemic indicated that GD students had very high levels of psychological distress. As the pandemic unfolded, GD students’ distress was higher than their cisgender peers. Whether elevated distress will prove transient or sustained requires further study. Although the K6 cannot provide diagnoses, GD students may be at increased risk of mental disorders during the pandemic and may need additional support and expanded access to treatment.

POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 10:18am
UPDATED: Monday, October 19, 2020 - 5:31pm
Healthy Communities Research Initiative