What is the No. 1 concern on the minds of college students as they head to campuses in the coming weeks? It is not the potential to contract monkeypox or COVID-19.
According to a new study released by the leaders at virtual health provider TimelyMD, nearly one-half of those polled had mental health at the top of the list, followed by three big stressors that have impacted the nation in the past six months. The threat of mass shootings was No. 2 among 1,200 students surveyed in late July at 41%—not surprising given the back-to-back events in Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Ill.—followed by inflation and finances in a dead heat at 40%.
Academics only registered concern among 38% of those who participate, while monkeypox was almost a nonfactor at 16%, although public health officials have sent up warnings in recent weeks about its transmissibility. More than half of students are either not at all concerned or less concerned about COVID this year, with the majority citing their colleges’ ability to respond to the pandemic as a factor.
“Students’ top stressor is their own mental health. That’s saying something,” said Dr. Rufus Tony Spann, executive director of Mental Health at TimelyMD. “While survey results are encouraging and indicative of a societal shift in mental health awareness and greater recognition of resources, it’s clear students still need more support.”
Researchers point out that around 70% of students are still reporting mental health issues—lower than the 92% percent from a study done in January but still high given the timing of this report done during the summer. Most say their stress has either not abated or increased since the fall of 2021. When asked how their colleges and universities can better alleviate their concerns, students cited 24/7 healthcare options that include the potential for virtual or telehealth connections in addition to in-person campus care or peer support networking.
“The No. 1 reason students leave college is for mental health reasons, and a team-based approach to care can ensure students stay healthy and are more likely to achieve their goals,” said Seli Fakorzi, director of mental health operations at TimelyMD.
TimelyMD dived deeper into groups who are feeling stressed. In terms of race and ethnicity, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Native students are feeling the most pressure (87%). The vast majority of non-binary and LGBTQ+ students also are dealing with anxiety, isolation and depression more than others. Across the board, however, more than half of every subgroup is feeling the impacts of society’s problems as well as their own struggles with mental health. If there is a silver lining, researchers said it is that students are more likely now than last year to reach out for support (71%) compared with a year ago.