The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected consumers’ mental health over the last year. Now, researchers from Boston University are exploring the specific mental health challenges that college students are facing.
The researchers found that conditions like depression and anxiety, and feelings of loneliness, are higher than ever among college students. While the pandemic certainly comes into play, the team thinks that these findings should be considered in a broader context of mental health struggles.
“Half of students in fall 2020 screened positive for depression and/or anxiety,” said researcher Sarah Ketchen Lipson. “I think mental health is getting worse [across the U.S. population], and on top of that we are now gathering more data on these trends than ever before. People are being more open, having more dialogue about it, and we’re able to better identify that people are struggling.”
Widespread mental health concerns
The researchers conducted a survey of nearly 33,000 college students to better understand what mental health struggles they’re experiencing. The survey asked general questions about the participants’ mental health and also touched on how stressors affected their day-to-day lives.
The large majority of the students involved in the study reported struggling with mental health and feelings of isolation, and these experiences often impacted their daily routines. More than 80 percent of the students shared that their mental health was a roadblock in completing assignments and handling other academic responsibilities.
Now knowing this, the researchers are calling on professors to make adjustments that can benefit their students’ mental health. Making assignments due earlier in the day can take the pressure off students to stay up all night, and gentle reminders about students’ worth outside of the classroom can leave a long-lasting positive impact.
“Even in larger classes, where 1:1 outreach is more difficult, instructors can send classwide emails reinforcing the idea that they care about their students not just as learners, but as people, and circulating information about campus resources for mental health and wellness,” Lipson said.
Utilizing mental health resources
Stressors like the COVID-19 pandemic or mounting student loan debt aren’t likely to disappear all at once, which makes it even more important for college students to utilize the mental health services that are available to them. Though half of the students involved in the survey were worried about what their peers would think about them seeking out mental health services, nearly 95 percent of the students said that they wouldn’t think differently of their peers for getting help for their mental health.
The researchers hope that these findings inspire more young people to use the resources available to them before they reach crisis-level. Finding healthy ways to cope with and manage anxiety and depression can benefit college students beyond their four years of school.
“Often students will only seek help when they find themselves in a mental health crisis, requiring more urgent resources,” said Lipson. “But how can we create systems to foster wellness before they reach that point? All students should receive mental health education, ideally as part of the required curriculum.”