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Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatría

Print version ISSN 0034-7450


ZAPATA-OSPINA, Juan Pablo et al. Mental health interventions for college and university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: a critical synthesis of the literature. rev.colomb.psiquiatr. [online]. 2021, vol.50, n.3, pp.48-62.  Epub Nov 13, 2021. ISSN 0034-7450.


College and university students are a population vulnerable to mental disorders, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their mental health has been affected by confinement, difficulties in the development of academic activities, and the demands of new pedagogical modalities. We aimed to respond to the question: what are the actions around a) promotion and prevention, b) mental symptoms care, and c) pedagogical adaptations that can be developed in order to improve the mental health of college and university students?


We conducted a critical synthesis from a systematic review of the literature. A search was made for scientific articles with descriptive, analytical, empirical or evaluative designs, as well as web resources of organizations related to the topic. A synthesis was carried out based on the three aspects of the question by means of a constant comparative method, until the aggregation of actions by similarity in the actors. We anticipated low evidence quality; therefore, a standardized evaluation was not performed.


We explored 68 articles and 99 web resources. After reviewing the full text, 12 scientific articles and 11 web resources were included. As general guidelines, we found that the most frequent suggestion is the design of a specific structured mental health program within universities, one that should be multidisciplinary, inclusive, dynamic and culturally sensitive. All actions taken by the university should be reported and published periodically so that students and other members of the university community are clear about them. Ideally, it is suggested to keep them until the post-pandemic period and include alumni. Regarding a) promotion and prevention, digital psychoeducation was recommended, with information about healthy lifestyles, common emotional reactions to epidemics, coping strategies and warning signs. Peer participation is suggested as a support strategy, as well as spaces for social interaction that focus not only on academic aspects but also on leisure. Screening for mental symptoms is suggested through frequent submission of online forms or mobile applications. In addition to mental health, it is important to inquire about the degree of satisfaction of basic and technology-related needs. For b) the care of mental symptoms, one of the actions commonly identified was a consulting centre that can provide mental health care by telephone, by technology, and even in person -if required -, with permanent availability with rapid response teams for crisis situations, such as suicidal behavior and domestic violence. For c) pedagogical adaptations, fluent communication is an indispensable requirement; having clear instructions on academic activities can reduce uncertainty and therefore anxiety. The teaching and pedagogical staff at the institution can offer direct advice (via video calls or online group meetings) to provide support in study habits, degree-specific material and mental health.


Included resources suggest the creation of a program that specifically addresses the mental health of students. This synthesis can provide guidelines that facilitate decision-making by the university, without losing sight of the fact that the institution and the student are immersed in a complex context, with circumstances and other actors at various levels that also intervene in mental health. Research is required on the evolution of the mental health situation and the effect of the actions that are being taken.

Keywords : Mental health; Student health services; Students/psychology; Pandemics; COVID-19.

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