College students report increase in emotional distress, in difficulties accessing mental health services

College students report increase in emotional distress, in difficulties accessing mental health services

Rory Kelly
Editorial Contributor

The American College Health Association (ACHA) and the Healthy Minds Network joined forces to examine the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on college students’ mental health and wellbeing. The organizations, which conduct annual surveys of student wellbeing, added items to measure students’ experiences with the pandemic. They combined data collected for each of their annual studies and compared findings from the March through May 2020 collection period to data from fall 2019. They received responses from over 18,000 students at 14 four- and two-year, private and public colleges and universities.

60% of the spring student respondents reported increased financial stress, a known inverse factor linked to student mental health. Students are more concerned with loved ones falling ill than themselves, and over 96% of respondents reported concerns about how long the pandemic will last, with 64.8% very or extremely concerned. 40% of spring respondents reported witnessing race-based discrimination either in person or online as a result of the pandemic.

Amidst the uncertainties in students’ personal lives, their academic lives, and the public health and political climate, data revealed that 60% of students said the pandemic has made it more difficult for them to access mental health care.

In assessing student well-being outside of the classroom, the surveys found a greater percentage of respondents indicated depressive symptoms as compared to fall 2019, while a smaller percentage engaged in substance use as compared to fall 2019.

As it relates to students’ experiences in academia this past spring, the surveys found a higher proportion reported that their mental health negatively impacted their academic performance compared to reports from fall 2019. Additionally, a majority of students said that colleges and universities, and especially professors, were supportive this past spring.  

The urgency of the college student mental health crisis has only increased during this pandemic. Additionally, research from groups like the ACHA and the Healthy Minds Network has made it clear that the demand for services outpaces clinical capacity at colleges and universities. At this point, access to and awareness of support and services rises to the top as a powerful intervention opportunity.

Christie Campus Health supports implementation of our CONNECT@College platform through campus awareness, which we recognize is of even greater importance these days given the current remote nature of the university experience. Not only does CONNECT provide remote, high-touch services such as telehealth and online cognitive behavioral training, but also comes with the commitment from our experienced staff to promote CONNECT services and engage with students to spread awareness of available support and avenues for access. As with many in higher education, we recognize that there is no playbook for this upcoming year and we are ready and committed to successfully supporting partner universities’ students and campus wellbeing, adapting together to enhance student experience and success.

JED Foundation offers recommendations for supporting student mental health during the pandemic

"Support the development of life skills; promote social connectedness; identify students at risk; increase student help-seeking behavior." Christie Campus Health’s CONNECT@College platform addresses all four of these recommendations.

Read More

Two College Health Practitioners Talk About Physical and Mental Health as School Year Begins

The Mary Christie Foundation produced a podcast episode for their Quadcast featuring two experts on  college student health: family practitioner Jill Grimes and psychiatrist Marcia Morris.

Read More

Congressional Resolution Submitted following CCH-Hosted Roundtable on College Mental Health

US Representative Joseph Kennedy announced the filing of a mental health resolution that was informed in large part by the CCH-hosted Roundtable on College Mental Health in February.

Read More