Understanding the effect of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on students' health and financial stability is important to establish effective interventions to mitigate these effects, which may have long-term consequences on their health and well-being. Public universities in urban centers represent a substantial proportion of college students in the USA. We implemented a cross-sectional population-based online survey of 2282 students in a large, public university in New York City in April 2020. We created weights to account for non-response and used Poisson regression with robust standard errors to estimate adjusted prevalence ratios (aPR) for factors associated with mental health outcomes. Students experienced high rates of anxiety/depression and financial instability due to the pandemic. Half of the students reported anxiety/depression (54.5%) and an increased need for mental health services (49.0%) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority (81.1%) reported loss of household income, and half (49.8%) reported worries about losing housing. High levels of food (aPR = 1.4, 95% CI 1.2, 1.6) and housing (aPR = 1.3, 95% CI 1.2, 1.4) insecurity were the strongest predictors of anxiety/depression. Household and personal experiences with possible COVID-19 symptoms were also associated with anxiety/depression or the need for increased mental health services. Addressing student needs at public urban universities requires an integrated holistic approach that targets urgent mental health and economic needs related to the impact of COVID-19. Students who become infected need mental health services as well as health monitoring.
Keywords: COVID-19; College students; Mental health; New York City.