By John Salak –
College students may be facing their biggest mental health test in decades, if not for all time, thanks to being hit with a quadruple whammy of concerns coming from the pandemic, political unrest, systematic racism and inequality, and growing financial stress tied to tuition-related debt.
This assessment comes by way of research from Boston University, which found depression and anxiety among young people is reaching epidemic proportions.
The research findings were drawn from surveys conducted on almost 33,000 college students across the nation. The results unveiled that half of these students tested positive for depression and anxiety. Over 80 percent of all students also reported their declining mental states were adversely impacting their academic performance.
Not surprisingly, two-thirds of the student reported feeling lonely and isolated, which is an all-time high figure that has been acerbated by the controls put in place to thwart the advance of the coronavirus pandemic. All these factors place greater responsibility on colleges and their teaching staffs to find ways to relief some of the pressure students feel, according to the report’s lead researcher.
“Faculty need to be flexible with deadlines and remind students that their talent is not solely demonstrated by their ability to get a top grade during one challenging semester,” reported Sarah Ketchen Lipson. “Even in larger classes, where 1:1 outreach is more difficult, instructors can send class wide 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.”
Rising mental health challenges are not unique to college students or even young adults, especially under the current environment. But Lipson noted that the nation’s 22 million college students are particularly susceptible to these issues because they are at a life stage when immediate emotional challenges can transform into lifetime issues.
Boston University’s troubling findings offset a more positive outlook on the mental health issues facing college students that was issued just a couple years ago by Healthy Minds Study.
Its survey of more than 150,000 college students nationwide found that while significant emotional and mental health issues confront young people, there were positive signs in terms of related treatments and diagnosis.
In the decades between 2007 and 2017, Healthy Minds reported that diagnosis of mental health issues among college students increased from 22 percent to 35 percent, while treatment rose form 19 percent to 34 percent. During this time, the stigma attached to mental health issues also declined.
While the percentage of related issues rose, straining existing resources, researchers took heart in discovering more students were being diagnosed and treated.
Unfortunately, Boston University’s lesson implies that that gap between mental health issues and treatments may once again be trending in the wrong direction, placing even greater pressure on academic institutions and support services than ever before at a time when they can least afford it.