Anxiety, depression reached record levels among college students last fall

February 25, 2021
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

A depressed college student. Image credit: iStock

Last fall, college students reported their highest levels of depression and anxiety of any prior semester, according to the University of Michigan Healthy Minds Study, an annual web-based survey looking at mental health and service utilization among undergraduate and graduate college students.

Among the respondents, 47% screened positive for clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety—up from 44% last year and the highest since the survey was started in 2007. The study included data from 32,754 students from 36 colleges and universities (response rate 14%).

“We are not necessarily attributing this to a dramatic spike in fall of 2020, but we actually see this as part of an overall trend of rising rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health outcomes and concerns that college students are reporting to us over the last five years, certainly, but even perhaps over the last 10 years,” said Justin Heinze, one of the principal investigators of the report.

Heinze, assistant professor of health behavior and health education, said a substantial majority of students indicated that their mental health has negatively affected their academic performance, with 83% reporting at least one day of academic impairment due to mental health in the last four weeks.

“Notably, 28% of students indicate the highest number of days of impairment: six-plus in the last four weeks, up from 22% in spring 2020,” Heinze said.

Other key findings included:

  • 66% of students indicated feeling isolated from others sometimes or often (a key risk factor for mental health)
  • Among students with a positive screen for depression or anxiety, only 40% had received any mental health counseling/therapy in the past year

The Healthy Minds Study began in 2007 to look into how to invest most effectively in the mental health and well being of college students. The study collects population-level descriptive data to understand the prevalence of mental health challenges on campus—things like depression, anxiety and eating disorders—and uses that data to help design and evaluate programs and interventions. The program then evaluates these interventions so universities and colleges can direct their resources most effectively to improve the health of their students, Heinze said.

“It really is a partnership between practitioners, administrators, policymakers and students, all having a voice on how we can use this data and translate it into interventions that can help students who are struggling,” Heinze said.

 

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