It’s no surprise that the stress of obtaining a higher education takes a toll on a person’s mental health, which in turn can affect every facet of their life. Colleges and universities across the country have been grappling with ways to tackle the concern for decades, but the recent weight of the Covid-19 pandemic, a spike in social injustices and violence (specifically in school settings), and the crippling and growing cost of tuition, has compounded the issue, making way for what is now considered a mental health crisis in higher education. As we start to dig out of the pandemic haze, colleges and universities are diving deeper into how to address the mental health and wellness of their students.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “During the 2020–2021 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the Healthy Minds Study, which collects data from 373 campuses nationwide (Lipson, S. K., et al., Journal of Affective Disorders, Vol. 306, 2022). In another national survey, almost three quarters of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress (National College Health Assessment, American College Health Association, 2021).”
The World Economic Forum agrees that 2020 saw a large jump in mental health crises on campuses. “In just six years, student anxiety in higher education institutions jumped from 17% to 31%, according to a study by the Healthy Minds Network and the American College Health Association. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the issue to the forefront. University students, in 2020, reported rapid spikes in anxiety and depression, with 60% of students saying the pandemic has made it harder to access mental health care.” Sarah K. Lipson, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of health law, policy, and management, shares why it’s important to face the issue head-on. “College is a key developmental time; the age of onset for lifetime mental health problems also directly coincides with traditional college years—75 percent of lifetime mental health problems will onset by age 24.”
While there is a clear increase in mental illness diagnoses on campus since 2020, much of that can trace back to a generation that is erasing the stigma older generations had a hold on when it came to seeking help for mental health. “Compared with past generations, more students on campus today have accessed mental health treatment before college, suggesting that higher education is now an option for a larger segment of society, said Micky Sharma, PsyD, who directs student life’s counseling and consultation service at The Ohio State University (OSU). Stigma around mental health issues also continues to drop, leading more people to seek help instead of suffering in silence.”
Addressing the rapidly-growing mental health issue on campus is more complex than hosting socials and offering access to 1:1 counseling sessions. Next week, we’ll discuss innovative ways universities are thinking outside the box to shift the narrative and help students seek a whole-health approach, starting with the mind.