Report: Anxiety still prevalent for most college students

Though some note a positive change in lifestyle, many others are struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic; what colleges can do to help.
By: | October 30, 2020
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College students are continuing to experience elevated levels of stress over the COVID-19 pandemic, with 20% admitting they are constantly anxious, according to a new report released by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), College Pulse and Course Hero.

The findings from NASPA and executed through a survey done of 3,500 students through the popular app College Pulse, shows that 81% of students are dealing with some level of anxiety. The majority of them are not seeking professional help. In addition, their attitudes and behaviors are shifting, as outlined in the collaborative report “Student Wellness During COVID-19: What Role Do Universities Play in Supporting their Students”.

Some of the ways college students are handling that stress are notable. Many are  embracing more healthy habits – 62% say they are drinking less and 84% say they are using less or no cannibas since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 40% report  cooking more. More than half say they are dedicating more time to classwork.

However, around 70% say their primary challenge is that classwork and remaining engaged in online learning. More than 50% have increased their use of social media. Some 40% say they are exercising less and sleeping less.

One of the red flags in the survey is not only that 60% say one of their biggest concerns is their mental health, but that most are not reaching out for services provided by their colleges such as telehealth and grief counseling, instead turning to parents or friends for help.

“While it is encouraging to learn students are turning less to unhealthy behaviors in response to increased stress, it is troubling to see that, while the right resources may exist, students are rarely accessing them,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA. “Now more than ever, it’s important institutions and student affairs leaders consider how to more effectively connect students with support services. Now that students have returned for the fall semester, either in-person or remotely, it’s imperative that college and university leaders understand their mental health needs in order to provide them with the social and emotional support they need.”

The role of institutions

When asked a series of questions about mental health services offered by their colleges and universities, more than a quarter of respondents in the survey answered “I’m not sure”. Another quarter expressed some level of dissatisfaction with mental health services, emotional well-being resources and health and wellness resources.

Institutions should be looking closely at trying to bridge the gap with students:

  • Colleges and universities should ensure that messaging to students regarding mental health services is in fact targeting and reaching their audience. Simply emailing or putting information on a website is not enough. The strategy must be executed across a number of platforms, including push notifications and on social media, where students are most accessible.
  • Ensure that mental health strategies and initiatives address all audiences, including those from different student populations. Of those who took part in the survey, LGBTQIA+ students reported they were experiencing more stress than other groups. Hispanic respondents noted more than any group (61%) that they feel their colleges don’t care about them. Female students say they have needed more support than male students, however male students are far less likely to reach out for support.
  • Poll your own students to find out how well remote learning is going. Students are showing extra dedication to their coursework but express that staying engaged is a challenge. Ensure that instruction is robust, platforms being used are dynamic, that connections between students and instructors are good and that all students have access to devices and high-speed internet.
  • Though experiencing the trauma of this moment, don’t underestimate the strength and resilience of Gen Z. More than two-thirds of those who took part said they are “optimistic about the future” and feel that they “lead a purposeful and meaningful life.” More than 80% are confident in activities they believe they excel in. So add programming and events that keep the vibe positive and give students extra incentive to pursue their goals.

Some other notable numbers from the survey: 61% of students like the way instruction has been handled at their institutions, whether that’s online or in-person; although nearly 90% trust their professors on decisions made around COVID-19, that number drops steeply in their trust for administrators and other peers to be safe; and White students expressed more of a need for mental health help than any other group (57%) although most subgroups were around 50%.