The pandemic is weighing on students’ mental health: survey

Dive Brief:

  • Students most frequently cited mental health as an aspect of their lives that has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, according to a survey by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University.
  • This was true for all but one of the 38 demographics the researchers tracked, even though only a third of students were seeking counseling for pandemic-related reasons. 
  • LBGT and nonbinary students, along with students of color, reported higher rates of disruption from the pandemic than their peers.

Dive Insight:

The data was gathered from more than 47,000 students entering treatment at one of 143 college counseling centers this fall, offering a snapshot of how the pandemic is affecting campus communities broadly. 

Students were asked whether the pandemic is negatively impacting 12 areas of their lives, including academics, mental health and relationships. That information was broken down across nine demographic characteristics, including gender identity and sexual orientation as well as whether the student was first-generation or had a disability.

The findings highlight which student groups are most adversely affected by the pandemic.

Transgender men and nonbinary individuals were significantly more likely than their peers to say the pandemic has negatively affected them across a range of factors, including mental health, academics, motivation or focus, and loneliness or isolation.

Students surveyed who are bisexual, questioning, pansexual, lesbian or queer reported negative impacts on factors including their mental health, motivation or focus, loneliness and academics at higher rates than those who are heterosexual/straight. 

And students who are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native, were most likely to report harm to their mental health. Students in these two groups, along with those who are African American/Black, reported the highest rates of grief or loss. COVID-19 is killing people who are Black, Hispanic or Latino, or from Indigenous communities at the highest rates.

The prevalence of mental health concerns across demographics means colleges should be “actively preparing” to support these needs in the coming year, the researchers wrote. In particular, they note, colleges should consider how to help students with minority identities when developing support services, as the data shows that they are most negatively impacted by the pandemic.

At least initially, the pandemic made accessing healthcare more difficult for many students. Counseling centers have tried to make their services available virtually. But challenges remain for students, including poor internet access and a lack of privacy to attend sessions. 

Centers were struggling with capacity issues before the pandemic began, when CCMH notes demand for their services was growing.

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