Did You Know? Of Students Seeking Mental Health Help, 33% Cite the Pandemic

The mental stress for college students sparked by COVID-19 is showing up in campus mental health centers.

New data from Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) found that, between July and November 2020, 33 percent of students seeking help from campus counseling centers said they were there for COVID-19 related problems. The CCMH data covered almost 50,000 students from more than 140 universities.

“Students who sought treatment because of COVID-19 reported higher rates of negative life impacts across all areas when compared to students who initiated treatment for other reasons,” the CCMH report noted.

Those students also self-reported issues with depression, anxiety, and academics at slightly higher rates than students seeking help unrelated to COVID-19.

Counselors were more likely to say students wanting COVID-19-related help were struggling with “anxiety, stress, generalized anxiety, depression, academic performance, social isolation, and adjustment to a new environment.” Family and relationship relationship problems, though, were more likely for students who didn’t mention COVID-19 as a reason for getting help.

As the Martin Center reported in August, student anxiety in higher ed—whether at community colleges, public regional universities, or Ivy League schools—has been a growing problem. Students are more stressed in preparing for college, applying, and handling the college experience. They’re also struggling to build resilience and independently dealing with their problems. Campus mental health centers have helped some students learn skills to properly manage stress and responsibilities, but the pandemic has made this more difficult with life changes and remote learning.

Even so, the effects of COVID-19 shouldn’t be exaggerated. The pandemic does not seem to be making college students suicidal or pushing them to drastic action. “Students who reported seeking mental health services due to COVID-19 reported only slightly increased distress in a few mental-health domains,” CCMH noted. “This suggests that COVID-19 is not universally driving mental-health distress.”

The pandemic may be taking away from student parties and the on-campus experience, but students are managing their changing circumstances—and reaching out for mental health help when they need it.

Anthony Hennen is managing editor at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.