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Student Spotlight: Mother, Researcher, and Mentor Researches How COVID-19 Affects Mental Health—and How Public Health Can Respond

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A DrPH candidate at the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH), Community and Behavioral Health Program, Jennifer Jewell works full-time and raises two children. She understands the need to adapt. After a seven-year break from academia, Jewell returned to school full-time to pursue her passion—psychiatric epidemiology—a field that did not exist when she completed her master’s degree in 2013. 

In addition to her studies, she serves as program manager for the Population Mental Health and Wellbeing Program at ColoradoSPH, where she mentors a group of master’s students with a similar passion. This graduate-level educational program focuses on the intersection of behavioral and public health; a national first. “I have really enjoyed advising these students, because I can see myself in them and love that they get to participate in a program that embraces their interests directly,” says Jewell.

The Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center’s Student Leaders Program provided Jewell, a fourth-year doctoral student, funding to complete a faculty-student collaborative project developing a curriculum to prevent postpartum depression. With funding from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the program supports students conducting applied health projects within underserved communities in the Rock Mountain Region. The students range from undergraduates to PhD candidates. 

When Colorado and other states began social distancing measures, Jewell found herself adapting to a global public health crisis. Knowing that her new work needed to be completed from home, she proposed a national survey that examined the pandemic’s impact on depression, anxiety and resilience. According to the preliminary survey results from 1,200 participants, 25 percent met the criteria for major depressive disorder versus 7 percent pre-pandemic; seventy percent of survey respondents reported feeling stress ‘to some extent or more these days’, with nearly two-thirds reporting mild, moderate, or severe anxiety. 

While the survey remains open to gather a more diverse sample, this work has shown some unexpected results. According to early analysis, older populations are faring better than younger populations. Jewell points to the impact school closures are having on parenting and employment options as a potential explanation for this generational difference. She is is working rapidly to publish initial results because she believes “reducing the research to practice pipeline will help get information into practitioners’ hands more rapidly, allowing them to use the information to inform interventions, school openings and clinical practice decisions.” 

“This really presents a novel opportunity to assess population health changes in the aftermath of a pandemic,” Jewell adds. The early results have given her more perspective on implications for pregnant women causing her to rethink and potentially modify her dissertation. The survey is still open.   

This story was originally posted by the National Network of Public Health Institutes.