Impact of Covid-19 on mental health and the role of personality: Preliminary data from a sample of young Italian students

Sara Guidotti, Gabriella Coscioni, Carlo Pruneti


Introduction: The aim of the present study is to describe the stress levels of university students during a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic (Spring 2022) that is a gradual approach to normality. More specifically, the influence of personality traits able to modulate the distress was investigated.

Materials and Methods: 120 students from the University of Parma were consecutively recruited. A state tests (Symptom Questionnaire) and two trait tests (P Stress Questionnaire and Cattell’s 16-Personality Factors) were administered. A comparison with similar data collected in 2019 was made. Moreover, the regression analyses calculated the amount of variance in psychopathological symptoms (anxiety, depression, somatization, and hostility) explained by the personality traits and the presence of behavior and lifestyles at risk for stress-related disorders.

Results: The scores of the SQ showed psychopathological symptoms above the clinical cut-off for all global clinical scales (anxiety, depression, somatization, and hostility) with values significantly higher than those of the 2019 sample for anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints. The inferential analyses demonstrated that individual factors predicting anxiety are high levels of somatic tension and emotional instability and low levels of openness to change as well as the difficulty in disconnecting from commitments. The inability to relax also predicts somatizations, along with emotional instability, apprehension, and vigilance. Hostile mood is predicted by tension, emotional instability, and openness to change, along with poor warmth. Finally, depression has high tension, low social boldness, and the presence of somatic disorders as predictors.

Conclusion: The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased levels of distress among university students. Moreover, specific personality factors were found to significantly predict the psychopathological symptoms. Certain individual traits, such as somatic tension, emotional instability, and reduced openness to change predict both anxiety activation and irritable mood. Other single traits seem to be more specific. Shy and introverted people are more prone to depression while distant and reserved persons tend to approach others with hostility. In conclusion, having the ability to identify individual factors predisposing to psychological distress could help the health professionals in implementing primary and secondary prevention programs.


Covid-19; Personality; Anxiety; Depression; Vulnerability to stress.

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