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Mental health disparities in the aftermath of national disasters and the protective role of socioeconomic status are both well documented. We assessed the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among underresourced public university students during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. Between April 8, 2020, and May 2, 2020, adult students (N = 1,821) across the CUNY system completed an online survey examining COVID-19–related stressors and mental health and sociodemographic factors. Using multivariable logistical regression to assess the association between COVID-19–related stressors and depression and anxiety symptoms, we found a high prevalence and severity of depression and anxiety symptoms. We also observed that more exposure to COVID-19–related stressors was associated with increased depressive (27.0%, 41.4%, and 63.1% for low-, medium-, and high-level stressors, respectively) and anxiety symptoms (19.3%, 34.6%, 52.2%). In addition, the degree of exposure to COVID-19–related stressors served as an important predictor of depression and anxiety symptoms. Compared to high levels of stressors, the odds of depression were 0.2, 95% CI [0.2, 0.3] for low- and 0.4, 95% CI [0.3, 0.5] for medium-level stressors; for anxiety, the odds were 0.2, 95% CI [0.2, 0.3] for low and 0.05, 95% CI [0.4, 0.6] for medium stressors. Finally, household savings of less than $5,000 increased the risk of anxiety but not depression symptoms, OR = 1.3, 95% CI [1.0,1.6]. Together, these findings tell a devastating story of psychological distress among students from lower socioeconomic groups living in the COVID-19 epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.


This work was originally published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, available at

This article can be used for unrestricted research re-use and analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source, for the duration of the public health emergency.



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