recent findings on the increasing mental health struggles amongst college students during the COVID-19 pandemic

A survey administered online during the fall 2020 semester through the Healthy Minds Network revealed that a significant number of college students are reporting widespread mental health issues. Of 33,000 students across the U.S., nearly half screened positive for depression and/or anxiety An overwhelming 83% of students also said their mental health had negatively impacted their academic performance, and that two-thirds of college students are struggling with loneliness and feeling isolated.

This is a significant increase in prevalence compared to semesters before the pandemic and demonstrates the extent to which social distancing can affect young people. Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a Boston University mental health researcher and a co-principal investigator of this nationwide survey, has a few recommendations for university faculty and administrative staff to respond this growing mental health concern.

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," Lipson says.

Second, Lipson recommends that professors can prevent unhealthy work habits by making class  assignments due at 5pm rather than midnight or early next morning, which often encourages students to stay up late to finish working. Now more than ever, professors should consider reaching out to students to check in on them if they are missing from class, especially in small class settings. The simple act of expressing care and concern may prompt students to ask for help when they need it.

"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 says.

One thing we can all keep in mind is that the burden of mental health is not the same across all student demographics. "Students of color and low-income students are more likely to be grieving the loss of a loved one due to COVID," Lipson say, and are "more likely to be facing financial stress." Of course, rising mental health challenges are not unique to the college setting and the results of this survey follow the trend of mental health decline throughout the youth in the U.S. Mental health in the U.S. has worsened rapidly over the course of the pandemic and today we are able to collect large amounts of data to understand how and why we are trending this way.

"We know mental health stigma is going down, and that's one of the biggest reasons we are able to collect better data. People are being more open, having more dialogue about it, and we're able to better identify that people are struggling," Lipson says.

For college students, it certainly isn’t helpful being in debt, Lipson explains. “You're more predisposed to experiencing anxiety the more debt you have. And research indicates that suicidality is directly connected to financial well-being." Risks of suicidal ideation is significantly more pronounced than at the start of the pandemic.

Thankfully, this survey showed that stigma around mental health continues to decrease as 94% of students say that they would not judge someone for seeking out help for mental health. So whether they are your friend or your student, transparency of care and a commitment to seeking help is the most important step we can give students, especially those who are still isolated.

Written by Aiden Suttlehan

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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