Over the past decade, campuses have become mired in a mental health crisis, with rates of depression and anxiety symptoms more than doubling. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the problem, with more than 60% of college students meeting the criteria for at least one mental health problem in the 2020-21 school year. Now, a new report from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and UWill, an online counseling platform for colleges and universities, has revealed that mental health continues to decline.
The report is based on survey responses from student affairs leaders at more than 100 institutions, representing more than 150,000 students. The results were unequivocal: 72% of respondents believed that the mental health of students, faculty and staff had deteriorated over the past year. 43% said their biggest challenge was the increasing severity of mental health issues they were facing.
Even though students are back on campuses, the pandemic is still having an impact, according to Dr. John Dunkel, senior director of learning and knowledge at the JED Foundation, a nonprofit focused on young adult mental health.
He said, ‘We have been hurt as a nation. “I think we’re trying to figure out how to get to a new normal.”
Students will be struggling to reconnect after being isolated, with the loss of loved ones and the financial effects of the pandemic. The most common leading stressors in the NASPA survey were personal or family life issues and financial or debt issues, both of which were identified by 76% of respondents. 44% said COVID concerns were foremost, and a similar percentage said the biggest stress students faced was meeting their basic needs.
On the other hand, the stigma associated with mental health appears to be diminishing. 93% of respondents thought that students have become more comfortable talking about mental health. Just 4% said stigma was a significant challenge.
“Overall, students are actually talking about it more than so-called adults on campuses,” Dunkel said. “The result is that they want more, and in some cases, demand more resources.”
It seems like the higher level administrators are aware. 87% of survey respondents said their college president believes mental health is a major priority, and 77% said their campus increased its financial commitment to mental health in the past year.
However, this awareness may not be enough. More than half of those surveyed believe their campuses have significant room for improvement in responding to student mental health needs, and 84% said funding should increase next year.
“It’s an old saying,” said Dunkel. “Where there is a will, there is a wallet? especially when enrollment is declining, [schools] Some very difficult choices have to be made about what they can and cannot provide.”
The well-being of university mental health workers is also a concern. According to the survey, 67% said burnout is worse this year, and a similar percentage said their workload has gotten worse. 61% said that their salary worries have increased.
President of the Mental Health Section of the American College Health Association and assistant clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Dr. For Ryan Patel, the fix is simple.
He said that there is a need to increase the staff. “Funding needs to be increased.”
According to Patel, the pressure on counseling centers can be relieved with an approach that covers all aspects of the institution.
“Every part of the university has a role to play in making a positive impact on young people’s mental health,” he said.
Wellness centers, for example, can provide health education and peer-led coaching. Dr. Sasha Zhou, assistant professor at Wayne State University and principal investigator for the Healthy Minds Network, saw a role for professors.
“We’ve found that the vast majority of faculty really want to help, but they don’t know how,” she said. “Even giving students a script to talk to them would be really helpful. There is also a growing body of work showing that mental health can be integrated into the academic curriculum. Some schools have focused on wellness. classes are offered that follow [a] form of self-processing.
Dunkel believes that college administrations can create programming to help students develop life skills and connect with each other. They can create crisis intervention policies to help students in crisis. They may also expand their ability to offer therapy with telehealth, a method that exploded during the pandemic.
Laura Horn, chief program officer of Active Minds, a nonprofit focused on student mental health advocacy, emphasized that, although funding new initiatives is important, funding research and evaluation is equally so. Necessary.
“We need to experiment with different things, but we also need to measure results,” she said. “The telehealth example is a great one: are these services working the way we expected them to? Is telehealth reducing the disparity in care for students?
John Edelman can be reached at [email protected],