For the past three years, Senior Research Scientist Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D., and her research team have screened students in Holliston, Massachusetts, for depression. By early February of this year, they had screened 620 students in grades 7, 9, and 11, and met personally with the 20-25 percent who reported experiencing symptoms of depression. They made contact with those students’ families, and in some cases referred them to resources outside the school.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Dr. Gladstone and her team wondered how many of the students they had screened a few months ago were now experiencing depressive symptoms, and how many were affected by anxiety as well. To find out, they will be completing follow-up screenings remotely in the next few months.
“When all of this started, I thought of a study I read years ago about a researcher who collected data from Stanford students before the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989,” said Dr. Gladstone. “Then she went back and collected follow-up data afterward. It was an example of finding some use in a disaster and being able to learn something from it.”
The researchers will send students a link to an online survey, and then follow up by phone with those who report symptoms (as well as talk with their parents or guardians). When it’s needed, they will also offer referrals to treatment resources that are available remotely. The plan is to collect the same data on depression as they did earlier in the year, but with additional questions about anxiety, coping strategies, and relationships.
“I’m excited to be able to offer these screenings as a resource to parents and schools,” said Gladstone. “Once we have this data, we’ll be able to make suggestions about how best to support those students who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. And we’ll know more about what kind of effects this pandemic is having on kids.”