Network analysis of anxiety and depressive symptoms among nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic

Wei Bai, Hai Tao Xi, Qianqian Zhu, Mengmeng Ji, Hongyan Zhang, Bing Xiang Yang, Hong Cai, Rui Liu, Yan Jie Zhao, Li Chen, Zong Mei Ge, Zhiwen Wang, Lin Han, Pan Chen, Shuo Liu, Teris Cheung, Yi Lang Tang, Todd Jackson, Fengrong An, Yu Tao Xiang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted the mental health and well-being of medical personnel, including nursing students. Network analysis provides a deeper characterization of symptom-symptom interactions in mental disorders. The aim of this study was to elucidate characteristics of anxiety and depressive symptom networks of Chinese nursing students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Method: A total of 932 nursing students were included. Anxiety and depressive symptom were measured using the seven-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) and two-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-2), respectively. Central symptoms and bridge symptoms were identified via centrality indices and bridge centrality indices, respectively. Network stability was examined using the case-dropping procedure. 

Results: Irritability, Uncontrollable worry, Trouble relaxing, and Depressed mood had the highest centrality values. Three bridge symptoms (Depressed mood, Nervousness, and Anhedonia) were also identified. Neither gender nor region of residence was associated with network global strength, distribution of edge weights or individual edge weights. 

Limitations: Data were collected in a cross-sectional study design, therefore, causal relations and dynamic changes between anxiety and depressive symptoms over time could not be inferred. Generalizability of findings may be limited to Chinese nursing students during a particular phase of the current pandemic. 

Conclusions: Irritability, Uncontrollable worry, Trouble relaxing, and Depressed mood constituted central symptoms maintaining the anxiety-depression network structure of Chinese nursing students during the pandemic. Timely, systemic multi-level interventions targeting central symptoms and bridge symptoms may be effective in alleviating co-occurring experiences of anxiety and depression in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-760
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Depression
  • Network analysis
  • Nursing students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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