ASU alumni study impact of pandemic on mental health of veterans

September 23, 2021

Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of military veterans, who have an increased risk for poor mental health compared with civilians, is a priority of two recent graduates of the clinical psychology doctoral program at Arizona State University.

Brandon Nichter is a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Department of Defense. Melanie Hill holds a visiting research scholar appointment in the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Diego, as does Nichter. Both are part of a research team using the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, or NHRVS, to examine the impact of the pandemic on veterans’ mental health.  Brandon Nichter and Melanie Hill, ASU alumni, are working on improving mental health and well-being of veterans. ASU alumni Brandon Nichter (left) and Melanie Hill (right), recent graduates of the clinical psychology doctorate program, are now working to understand how the pandemic has affected the mental health of military veterans. Download Full Image

The NHRVS surveyed approximately 3,000 veterans about their mental health shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and a year later, approximately 10 months into the ongoing pandemic. The study used a nationally representative sample of veterans, which means that the findings can apply to the entire U.S. veteran population. 

Hill was recently the lead author of a study using the NHRVS that examined how rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms changed among veterans during the pandemic. That work was published in Psychological Medicine. 

“We wanted to understand how stressful conditions associated with the pandemic, ranging from worries about contracting COVID-19 and the impacts of mitigation measures like lockdowns, may be affecting veterans,” Hill said.

Nichter was the lead author of another study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry. This work examined how the pandemic has impacted suicidal behavior among veterans.

“Prior to the pandemic, military veterans were 50% more likely to die by suicide relative to civilians. The goal of our study was to examine whether factors connected to the pandemic such as financial hardship, increasing loneliness and COVID-19 infection were associated with higher rates of suicidal behavior,” Nichter said.

General anxiety increased among middle-aged veterans during the pandemic 

The NHRVS surveyed veterans in November 2019, four months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and again a year later in November 2020, about 10 months into the pandemic. Participants were asked to report about symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.

There were no changes in depression or PTSD symptoms, but there was an increase in veterans experiencing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. This change was driven by increasing anxiety among middle-aged veterans who were 45 to 64 years old.

“It is possible that middle-aged veterans experienced an increase in anxiety because the pandemic has been a stressful time to balance competing demands,” Hill said. “This group might be taking care of kids and older relatives while still working and having to deal with job uncertainty, remote learning for kids and worrying about older relatives getting infected.” 

Suicidal ideation among veterans decreased during the pandemic

The NHRVS also asked participating veterans about incidences of suicidal ideation — or how many times they had thoughts about suicide over the past year. 

The prevalence of suicidal ideation in the overall veteran population decreased by nearly 30% during the pandemic relative to pre-pandemic levels. But 2.6% of the study participants reported developing new suicidal ideation during the pandemic.  

“Using population benchmarks, our findings suggest that roughly half a million new veterans may have contemplated suicide during the pandemic,” Nichter said. 

The strongest risk factors for new-onset suicidal ideation included low social support and previous mental health problems prior to the pandemic. 

“Given the increases in stressors associated with the pandemic, we anticipated this stress might have contributed to higher rates of suicidal thinking in veterans. However, our findings showed a decrease in the prevalence of suicidal ideation in the overall veteran population, which is consistent with data from the CDC that found that the rate of deaths by suicide among Americans decreased during the first year of the pandemic by 5.6%,” Nichter said.

Veterans who had been ill with COVID-19 were 2.5 times more likely to report new onset of suicidal ideation. When the research team took previous mental health problems and other factors for suicide behaviors into account, COVID-19 illness still remained a risk factor for new instances of suicidal ideation. 

“It is important to understand how different populations respond to the pandemic, and our studies are the first, to my knowledge, to have examined trends in mental health symptoms in a nationally representative sample of U.S. veterans during the pandemic. This work highlights the need for additional research into the long-term mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hill said.

Trained by ASU

At ASU, Nichter earned his PhD in clinical psychology under the mentorship of Nancy Gonzales, who was then a Foundation Professor of psychology and is now executive vice president and university provost. Nichter said he chose Gonzales as his doctoral adviser because of her nationally recognized expertise in understanding the developmental processes that put Latino and other minority youth at risk for mental health and substance use problems.

“The clinical science program at ASU strongly influenced where I am currently. Attending ASU helped me better understand the pathways and processes that lead at-risk populations like veterans to develop mental health problems,” he said.

Hill worked under the mentorship of Madeline Meier, associate professor of psychology, and conducted research on how stress and emotion regulation affect substance use and mental health.

“I received a strong foundation in clinical science research at ASU, and I use that groundwork in my current postdoctoral fellowship. Right now I am studying how mental health problems and substance use impact one another, with a specific focus on cannabis use and PTSD in veterans,” Hill said.

For veterans who are struggling, the veterans crisis line offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or text 838255. For anyone else who is struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, also at 1-800-273-8255.

Science writer, Psychology Department


ASU orchestras' 2021-22 season reflects renewed commitment to one another, music

September 23, 2021

The substantial disruption of COVID-19 has given the ASU orchestras a collective moment of recalibration — a moment to breathe and examine more deeply both the privilege and responsibility of creating live music together.

“The ASU orchestras have been rebooted in a variety of ways,” said Jeffery Meyer, director of orchestras and associate professor in the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Taking momentum from last season’s numerous guest artists, our audiences will see an even greater commitment to voices that have often been marginalized in the classical music concert hall, and a continued commitment to placing the music of our time next to the great masterworks of the past.” The ASU Symphony Orchestra. Download Full Image

“Last season, the ASU Philharmonia had the opportunity to reflect on our goals and mission and remind ourselves about the immense privilege to be able to share our passion for music,” said Julie Desbordes, music director for the ASU Philharmonia. “We reinforced and promoted our values of an equitable orchestral culture — reorganized our structure from within and empowered our multitalented musicians through various committees and leadership positions to co-create and co-shape our direction.”

The orchestral program’s mission of innovative collaborations is also strengthened with new partnerships within the newly merged School of Music, Dance and Theatre, a new partnership with the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix and continued collaborations with Mesa Arts Center.

In addition, the orchestras are partnering with Harmony Project and Rosie’s House to provide aspiring young musicians and families that otherwise may not have had the means the opportunity to attend orchestra concerts. Audiences will experience performances by guest soloists, ASU concerto competition winners, actors, directors and painters, listen to world premieres and commissions, and attend outdoor and midnight concerts.

Meyer said the orchestras are taking more time to prepare their performances, being more thoughtful about why they are doing what they are doing and working to build a greater sense of community within rehearsal spaces and with audiences.

“After so much time away from playing together, the time together in the rehearsal room and on the stage is not taken for granted,” Meyer said. “I think you will hear this deepened commitment to each other and to the music we play in the vitality of our performances this season.”

The Symphony and Chamber Orchestra season highlights include: the ASU Concerto Competition winners, the ASU Composition Competition winner, faculty artist Garth Paine’s new work for orchestra and cellphones, composer Carlos Simon’s world-premiere commission “Graffiti” (in collaboration with faculty artist Jorge “House” Magana’s reboot of SolPower and live graffiti artists), composer Nkeiru Okoye’s residency featuring faculty artist Nathan Myers and stage director Rachel Finley, an appearance at the Mesa Arts Center as part of an evening with bassist Xavier Foley, and guest conductor Carl St. Clair.

This year’s Philharmonia season includes collaborations within the school’s dance and music composition programs, and with the ASU Gospel Choir, the ASU Choral Union and inspiring artists and composers, including a world premier by Jocelyn Chambers.

All attendees are required to agree to adhere to ASU policies that are consistent with CDC guidelines for colleges and universities. Face coverings are required in School of Music, Dance and Theatre indoor performance spaces. Please review full event policies at the ticket link below. University COVID-19 information can be found at

ASU orchestras' 2021–22 season

ASU Symphony Orchestra
7:30 p.m. Sept. 25; purchase tickets
Madison Center for the Arts, Phoenix; directions

The ASU Symphony Orchestra welcomes audiences back to the thrill of live, in-person music making with Stravinsky’s ecstatic “Firebird Suite.” In its debut at the Madison Center for the Arts, the ASUSO also presents “Sound and Fury,” Anna Clyne’s recent masterpiece, which takes its inspiration from the works of Haydn and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The concert begins with Brahms’ beloved “Haydn Variations.” 

Brahms: "Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn"
Anna Clyne: "Sound and Fury" (2019)
Stravinsky: "Firebird Suite"

ASU Chamber Orchestra
7:30 p.m. Oct. 19; purchase tickets
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
7:30 p.m. Oct. 23; purchase tickets
Madison Center for the Arts, Phoenix; directions

The ASU Chamber Orchestra presents two of ASU’s emerging stars: DMA composer Daniel Taborda Higuita, winner of the 2020 ASU Composition Competition, who has written a new work for the ASUCO, as well as bassist Nathaniel De la Cruz, winner of the 2021 ASU Concerto Competition, who will perform Frank Proto’s virtuosic “Nine Variants on Paganini.” The concert begins with Haydn’s “The Soul of the Philosopher” and concludes with a world-premiere performance of a newly created edition of Beethoven’s brilliant “Symphony No. 8.”

Haydn: "Overture to Orfeo ed Euridice" (The Soul of the Philosopher)
Frank Proto: "Nine Variants on Paganini" (2002), Nathaniel De La Cruz, double bass          
Daniel Taborda Higuita: "New Work" (2021) (world premiere)
Beethoven: "Symphony No. 8" (world premiere, Nicholas Kitchen Edition)

Special event — John Luther Adams: “Sila”
11:59 p.m. Oct. 30; free
ASU Memorial Union Orange Mall, outdoor concert

Members of the ASU Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Music Theatre and Opera programs join forces for a once-in-a-lifetime, midnight experience of John Luther Adams’ “Sila,” a work that surrounds the audience with the “breath of life.”

ASU Studio Orchestra and ASU Chamber Winds
3 p.m. Nov. 14; purchase tickets
ASU Gammage

ASU Chamber Winds and Studio Orchestra present ASU’s graduate wind and orchestral conductors in a program offering works for winds and Beethoven’s brilliant “Symphony No. 7.”

Beethoven: "Symphony No. 7"
Other works, TBD

ASU Symphony Orchestra
7:30 p.m. Nov. 20; purchase tickets
ASU Gammage

In collaboration with the reboot of ASU’s SolPower hip-hop festival, the ASU Symphony premieres Carlos Simon’s “Graffiti,” performed with art created in real time by internationally renowned graffiti artists. A new work by ASU composer Garth Paine begins the concert and includes sounds amplified by the audience’s own cellphones as part of the orchestral landscape. The concert also features pianist John Solari, winner of the 2020 ASU Concerto Competition, performing Ravel’s American jazz club-inspired “Piano Concerto for the Left Handand concludes with Arturo Márquez’s exuberant “Danzón No. 2.”

Garth Paine: "FraKture" (2021) (world premiere)
Ravel: "Piano Concerto for the Left Hand," John Solari, piano 
Carlos Simon: "Graffiti" (2021) (world premiere)
Arturo Márquez: "Danzón No. 2" (1994)

ASU Chamber Orchestra with Xavier Foley
7:30 p.m. Feb. 10; purchase tickets
Mesa Arts Center

The ASU Chamber Orchestra appears at the Mesa Arts Center as part of an evening with bassist Xavier Foley featuring “For Justice and Peace,” a new work co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Sphinx Organization.

Xavier Foley: "For Justice and Peace," Sunny Xia, conductor

ASU Symphony Orchestra
4 p.m. Feb. 20; purchase tickets
ASU Gammage

Baritone Nathan De'Shon Myers joins the ASU Symphony Orchestra performing Nkeiru Okoye’s tragic and thought-provoking “Invitation to a Die-In,” a work that responds to the murders of Black men, starkly telling the story from the perspective of the deceased, their families, police officers and citizens on all sides of the issue. The work is preceded by Valerie Coleman’s newly written “Fanfare for Uncommon Times” and Molly Joyce’s haunting “Over and Under” for organ and orchestra. The concert concludes with 2021 ASU Concerto Competition winner Vladislav Kosminov performing Prokofiev’s dazzling “Piano Concerto No. 3.”

Valerie Coleman: "Fanfare for Uncommon Times" (2021)
Molly Joyce: "Over and Under" (2016)
Nkeiru Okoye: "Invitation to a Die-In" (2017), Nathan De'Shon Myers, baritone
Prokofiev: "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3," Vladislav Kosminov, piano

ASU Symphony Orchestra
Young Person’s Concert
10 a.m. and 11 a.m. March 3; purchase tickets
Madison Center for the Arts, Phoenix; directions

The ASU Symphony Orchestra presents a concert aimed to engage, inspire and educate a young audience.

ASU Symphony Orchestra
3 p.m. April 3
Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
7:30 p.m. April 9; purchase tickets
ASU Gammage

Winners of the 2020 and 2021 ASU Concerto Competition Julian Nguyen, violin, and Ty Chiko, baritone, headline this concert with works by Korngold and Mahler. The concert begins with the blazing energy of Grażyna Bacewicz’s “Overture” and concludes with Debussy’s shimmering and tempestuous masterpieceLa Mer.”

Grażyna Bacewicz: "Overture"
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: "Violin Concerto, I. Moderato nobile," Julian Nguyen, violin
Mahler: "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)," Ty Chiko, baritone
Debussy: "La Mer"

ASU Studio Orchestra
7:30 p.m. April 13
Katzin Concert Hall, Tempe campus

Conductors Sunny Xuecong Xia, Kara Piatt and Sergio Freeman lead the ASU Studio Orchestra in Brahms “Symphony No. 3” as well as selections from the opera repertoire featuring guest vocalists from ASU’s Music Theatre and Opera program.

Brahms: "Symphony No. 3"
Other repertoire, TBA

ASU Symphony Orchestra
7:30 p.m. April 23; free
Nelson Fine Arts Plaza

Join the ASU Symphony Orchestra for a short evening concert outdoors at ASU’s Nelson Fine Arts Plaza. The concert will feature Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture” and Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

ASU Symphony Orchestra and ASU Wind Symphony
7:30 p.m. April 28; purchase tickets
ASU Gammage
Guest conductor: Carl St.Clair

Internationally renowned conductor Carl St.Clair leads the ASU Symphony Orchestra and ASU Wind Symphony in the 2021–22 season finale with works by Berlioz and Ticheli, ending with Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

Frank Ticheli: "Rest"
Ticheli: "Blue Shades," ASU Wind Symphony
Berlioz: "Roman Carnival Overture"
Respighi: "Pines of Rome," ASU Symphony Orchestra

ASU Philharmonia

7:30 p.m. Oct. 7; purchase tickets
Madison Center for the Arts, Phoenix; directions

The ASU Philharmonia invites you to its first party of the 2021–22 season. The orchestra celebrates being back together in person and sharing the joy of live music with audiences performing works by Fauré, Price and Coleman, as well as several that will make the brass section shine by Márquez, Méndez and Moncayo.

Gabriel Fauré: "Masques et Bergamasques, op.112, Overture"
Florence Price: "Symphony No. 3, Mvt 3 and 4"
Arturo Márquez: "Danzón No. 2"
Valerie Coleman: "Umoja: Anthem of Unity"
Rafael Méndez: "Tre-Méndez Polka"
José Pablo Moncayo: "Huapango"

7:30 p.m. Nov. 30
ASU Gammage

The ASU Philharmonia presents an evening of storytelling through meaningful collaboration. Exploring the sonic worlds of Mozart, Coleridge-Taylor, Piazzolla, Bartók and Ravel, the Philharmonia collaborates with ASU Clinical Assistant Professor Carley Conder’s dance class, adding a new dimension to the music presented on stage. Also featured is a world premiere created out of our ongoing collaboration with ASU Assistant Professor Fernanda Navarro’s composition class.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "Magic Flute Overture"
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: "Novelette No. 1"
Ástor Piazzolla: "Tangazo: Variations on Buenos Aires"
Béla Bartók: "Romanian Folk Dances for String Orchestra Sz.56 BB 68"
ASU Composition student: new composition
Maurice Ravel: "Mother Goose Suite"

7:30 p.m. Feb. 17
ASU Gammage

The ASU Philharmonia presents its very first collaboration with the ASU Gospel Choir, led by Assistant Professor Nathan De’Shon Myers. The concert begins Florence Price’s "Symphony No. 3." Price was an inspiring example who in 1933 became the first African American woman composer to be performed by a major American orchestra (Chicago Symphony). In the second half of the program, the orchestra collaborates with the Gospel Choir and celebrates this wonderful new artistic union.

Florence Price: "Symphony No. 3"
Other works to be announced

Collaboration with ASU Choral Union
7:30 p.m. April 8
ASU Gammage

In collaboration with the ASU Choral Union led by Professor David Schildkret, the ASU Philharmonia presents an evening inspired by metamorphosis and transcendence, performing works by Beethoven, Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, and a world premiere by Jocelyn Chambers.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: "Serenade for Strings"
Ludwig van Beethoven: "Egmont Overture"
Jocelyn Chambers: new commission, title TBD (world premiere)
Antonio Vivaldi: "Gloria"

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre