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depression and anxiety in college students

College can be a very exciting time in a young person’s life. There are new friends, new living arrangements, and, of course, an immense array of educational opportunities to experience. However, it can also be a very challenging time, given all the adjustments and pressures associated with higher education. The rates of depression and anxiety among college students has always been a concern and is now even more so in the midst of the pandemic.

Pre-COVID Mental Health Indicators

A number of research studies have been conducted in the past several years, to determine the rates of depression and anxiety among college students. One group of researchers studied data from two large annual surveys of college students between 2007 and 2018 and found that mental health indicators have been worsening throughout the years. The rate of anxiety, depression, low flourishing, and suicidal planning and attempts had been increasing even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 177,000 undergraduates participated in the surveys between 2007 and 2018. Most were between the ages of 18 and 22. Reports of suicide attempts increased from 0.7% of survey participants in 2013 to 1.8% in 2018, while the proportion of students reporting severe depression rose from 9.4% to 21.1% in the same period. The rate of moderate to severe depression rose from 23.2% in 2007 to 41.1% in 2018, while rates of moderate to severe anxiety rose from 17.9% in 2013 to 34.4% in 2018.

Depression and Anxiety During COVID

As the pandemic continued through 2020 and into 2021, the rates of depression and anxiety among college students reflected their stress and worries over the COVID-19 virus and its effects on them and their family. In one survey, conducted of 195 students at a large public university in the US, 71% of the students indicated they felt increased stress and anxiety due to the outbreak. Contributing factors to their increased levels of anxiety and depression included:

  • Worries about their health and their loved ones’ health (91%)
  • Difficulty with their ability to concentrate (89%)
  • Disruptions to their sleep patterns (86%)
  • Decreased social interaction because of physical distancing restrictions (86%)
  • Increased concerns about their academic performance (82%).

Summer Screening for Mental Health

In separate studies conducted during the summer of 2020, researchers found that college students were experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety than in years past. These results indicated that the pandemic was having a negative mental health impact on students, particularly for those who struggled with the transition from in-person classrooms to remote learning. One study of 15,346 graduate and professional students found that 32% were positive for major depressive disorder, two times higher than this group experienced in 2019, and 39% were experiencing generalized anxiety.

An online survey conducted of almost 200 college students, including graduate students, focused on their emotional readiness for the fall 2020 semesters. That study found that 63% of the students indicated their emotional health was worse than before the pandemic began and 56% were significantly concerned about their ability to care for their own mental health. In addition, the students indicated they were dealing with:

  • Anxiety (82%)
  • Social isolation / loneliness (68%)
  • Depression (63%)
  • Trouble concentrating (62%)
  • Difficulty coping with stress in a healthy way (60%)
  • Suicidal thoughts, experienced in the previous month (19%).

Concerned About Their Mental Health

College students recognize that their depression and anxiety is increasing, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A research report released by the CDC recently as well as research published by several other organizations found that students think that the pandemic has made it more difficult for them to access mental health care.

One survey found that 58% of college students were “moderately,” “very,” or “extremely” worried about their mental health. In addition, 46% were anxious about returning to the physical campus. The CDC report identified a serious concern among college students about suicide attempts. Approximately 25% of those students surveyed said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the previous 30 days.

Hope by the Sea is Here to Help

If you or someone you love is dealing with mental health issues, the professionals at Hope by the Sea are here to help. We are a southern California mental health and addiction treatment center, focused on helping men and women begin the journey of recovery from mood disorders and addiction. We specialize in treating you as a whole individual, so you can embrace your recovery with as much support and momentum as possible. When you need help treating your mental health or substance use disorder, we offer the dual diagnosis treatment program you need. Please contact us today to learn more about our programs and services. Hope Starts Here!