The mental health of young adults seems to be declining more year over year.
College is supposed to be one of the best times in a person’s life, with newfound freedom and independence and a chance to find oneself. But recently, Boston University researchers revealed that mental health on campus has declined significantly. Rates of anxiety and depression, among other common mental health ailments, have skyrocketed over the past eight years, with more than half of on-campus students struggling with at least one major depressive episode during this period.
In a recent study, researchers found that increasing rates in anxiety and depression were already being noticed among students as early at middle school over the same timeframe. This means public health officials need to start monitoring how students may be struggling much earlier than ever before. There seems to be a greater need for counseling and peer-support services early on.
Sarah Lipson, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at the Boston University School of Public Health said, “The age of onset for lifetime mental health problems directly coincides with traditional college years—75% will have an issue by the time they’re 24.”
Researchers utilized data collected by the Healthy Minds Network between 2013 and 2021 from 350,000 students at over 300 campuses nationwide. They found that Black and Asian students had a significantly higher rate of mental health symptoms than their white or Latino counterparts. They also noted an increase in the number who reported experiencing these issues over time, which suggests it’s becoming more common for people to seek help as they grow older – especially among those from disadvantaged backgrounds like poverty-stricken households with limited educational attainment levels.
Researchers also noted that American Indian/Alaskan Native college students were some of the most affected with the amount of those students experiencing double the amount of mental health problems between 2013 and 2021.
Lipson explains, “There has not been nearly enough research on this population. My hope is that this data documents the urgency around understanding some of the unique factors shaping these students’ mental health. American Indian/Alaskan Native students need to be brought into the conversation for universities to invest in resources that align with their preferences.”
According to the research, white students were more likely than other groups to experience non-suicidal self-harm and eating disorders (EDs) including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, among others. However, the rate of increase was similar across all categories including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation or one mental health problem among minority populations. The study also found that fewer students of color were accessing mental health services during the pandemic even when they’re struggling.
The data collected suggests, overall, an issue with accessibility when it one seeks treatment for mental illness either on- or off-campus, and issue which needs more attention from educators and policy makers alike.
“The crisis related to mental health exists beyond the college and university setting,” said Lipson. “It might not be perfect, but many four-year colleges offer some of the best resources people will ever have.”