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Three female college students sit outside on the grass on a blanket, laughing and looking at a computer screen. One of the women is using a wheelchair.

Student Voice asked 3,000 two- and four-year students about their health and wellness during college, including their experiences with chronic stress, mental and physical health, and campus dining and wellness offerings.

Dejan Marjanovic/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Coverage from our second Student Voice survey of 2023, on health and wellness, is coming to a close. Read on for a recap of the top 10 findings and links to related articles and analysis.

The survey, fielded in April and May in collaboration with College Pulse, included 3,000 two- and four-year college respondents at 158 institutions. Questions related to experiences with chronic and acute stress, mental health, physical wellness, and relevant campus services and facilities. Explore the data further by requesting access to findings, with the ability to filter by demographic factors, here.

Now, the survey’s biggest takeaways:

  1. Chronic stress is contributing to students’ mental health concerns. Some 56 percent of students over all have experienced chronic stress in college. Different from acute stress, this is defined as a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time, and it’s particularly worrisome because it’s linked to a variety of mental and physical health problems. While rates of acute stress are relatively consistent across subgroups of students in the survey, some groups report chronic stress at elevated rates. These include students with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses (69 percent) and students with mental health conditions (78 percent).

There is also a clear connection between Student Voice respondents’ experiences with chronic stress and how they rate their mental health, with better mental health correlated with less chronic stress. Nearly nine in 10 students who rate their mental health as poor (n=477) have experienced chronic stress while in college, for example. By contrast, four in 10 students who rate their mental health as excellent (n=438) have experienced chronic stress during college.

Read more about the connection between stress and student mental health here.

  1. Three in four students say stress is negatively impacting their ability to learn, focus and do well academically. One in four students says that stress is negatively impacting their academics a great deal, and half say it’s negatively impacting them some. Not quite a quarter say stress isn’t impacting their academics too much. Just 4 percent say stress has no negative impact on their academics.

Mental health challenges and chronic stress are correlated with a more negative impact on academic success. More than a third of students with fair or poor mental health (n=1,466) say stress is impacting their academics a great deal. Of those who have experienced chronic stress in college (n=1,670), one-third say stress is negatively impacting their academics a great deal.

Half of students also say that their physical health and wellness is negatively impacting their ability to do well academically, either somewhat or a great deal. Among students with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses (n=421), the share of students who say this is 72 percent. Among students who identify as having mental health conditions (n=1,079), the share is 63 percent.

Student suggestions for easing stress on their campuses are available here.

  1. Just half of students rate their mental health good or excellent. Asked to rate their own mental health, 15 percent of Student Voice respondents over all say it is excellent and 35 percent say good. A third say fair. Differences emerge across a number of dimensions. These include gender, sexual orientation and financial aid status:
  • Two in five women (n=1,997) rate their mental health as excellent or good, compared to three in five men (n=747).
  • Fewer than four in 10 LGBTQIA+ students (n=829) rate their mental health as excellent or good, versus 54 percent of straight students.
  • Not quite half of students receiving some form of financial aid (n=1,826) rate their mental health as excellent or good, as do 56 percent of students with no financial aid (n=791).

Read more on student mental health findings and suggested interventions here.

  1. Half of students who rate their mental health as poor haven’t accessed campus mental health resources. Asked if they’ve used various campus-based mental health resources, a quarter of Student Voice respondents say they’ve accessed on-campus counseling. Twelve percent have used telecounseling, either from a campus counselor or arranged by their college. Nearly one in 10 students has gotten a referral to an off-campus therapist, and 6 percent of students each have used a mental health hot line and urgent and time-sensitive counseling.

The largest share of students—nearly two-thirds—have not used any of these resources. A more telling statistic, which suggests a major gap in care, is the share of students with a mental health condition who haven’t accessed any mental health services: 50 percent. And some 49 percent of students who rate their mental health as poor haven’t accessed any of these services, either.

Read more about students’ experiences with telecounseling and campus-based care here.

  1. Exams are students’ No. 1 academic stressor. Asked about their biggest academic stressors, in particular, Student Voice survey respondents cite exams, pressure to do well, balancing school and other obligations, essays or papers, and getting a bad grade—in that order.

Rounding out the top eight academic stressors are homework or readings, pressure to decide on a career, and group projects.

Mental health matters in identifying stressors, as well. Among students who rate their mental health as excellent, pressure to do well is the No. 5 academic stressor (affecting just 25 percent of these students) instead of the No. 2 academic stressor that it is for the group as a whole—or the No. 1 factor that it is for students who rate their mental health as poor (affecting 52 percent of this group).

Major appears to factor in here, with exams being a top stressor for 69 percent of students in the natural sciences, 54 percent of students in the social sciences and 37 percent of arts and humanities students (versus 59 percent of students over all). Among arts and humanities students, balancing schoolwork and other obligations, pressure to do well and essays or papers rank more stressful than exams.

Read more about the connection between academic pressure and mental health here.

  1. Knowledge of campus mental health crisis care is lacking. Just 27 percent of Student Voice respondents strongly agree with the statement “I know where I can seek help on campus if I or a friend is experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Perhaps concerningly, students with excellent or good mental health are much more likely than those with lower mental health self-ratings to say they know where to turn in case of a mental health crisis: 71 percent versus 61 percent, respectively.

Tips for boosting campus-based mental health resources awareness are here.

  1. Reducing stress is students’ top health and wellness goal, with nearly three in four students saying this. What are students’ other top health goals? Six in 10 students each want to eat a healthier diet, get more sleep and get more exercise. Nearly half of students want to stick to a regular sleep schedule. About four in 10 want to spend more time outside, lose weight or get stronger. Around a third want to practice mindfulness more often or eat at consistent mealtimes.

Relatively more students receiving financial aid than not receiving it want to do the following:

  • Reduce stress (74 percent versus 67 percent, respectively)
  • Get more sleep (62 percent versus 54 percent)
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule (49 percent versus 39 percent).

More findings about students’ physical wellness are available here.

  1. Students believe professors bear responsibility for helping them ease their stress. This puts professors ahead of even campus counselors, advisers, peers, administrators and others on this front, with 42 percent of students over all saying professors have this responsibility. The number shrinks to 33 percent when looking at community college students only (n=599). But it grows when looking at other groups, including students at private nonprofit institutions (47 percent) and students with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses (48 percent).

Just three in 10 of the full sample say easing stress is only the student’s responsibility.

Asked who on campus besides counseling center staff members has a responsibility to help students struggling with their mental health (not just stress), 45 percent of students say professors. This is consistent across institution types. Half of students with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses and nearly half of students with mental health conditions say professors have this responsibility.

Experts share advice for supporting student well-being in the classroom here and here.

  1. Students indicate room for improvement to both campus dining and wellness offerings. Just over half of students say they have access to campus dining halls when they need and want food, for example, and just a quarter enthusiastically say that their campus dining halls have high-quality food.

Asked what wellness offerings and facilities their institutions are getting right, half of students choose fitness facilities and about a quarter say wellness facilities. Asked what needs improvement, 45 percent of students say dining food hall options, 23 percent say wellness class offerings.

More on students’ wellness and food preferences is available here.

  1. Mental health offerings matter to prospective students. While colleges and universities haven’t historically touted their mental health care options to prospective students, Student Voice data indicate that many prospective students are now considering institutions’ mental health care options in choosing where to attend: asked which wellness services mattered most when making the decision to enroll at their college or university, for students over all, the No. 1 choice was mental health support, with 29 percent selecting it as the top wellness factor in choosing their institution. The second most important listed service was dining, followed by fitness and physical health, while 28 percent responded that none of these was a top priority in their college decision.

Mental health services were even more important for students who accessed mental health care or took prescribed medication for mental or emotional health care needs prior to attending college. Among this group (n=980), 36 percent say mental health care was the wellness offering that mattered most when selecting a college.

Yet even among students who did not access mental health care prior to attending college, 25 percent say that mental health was the top wellness offering that informed their college choice.

Read more about prospective students’ interests in mental health services here.

Next up in Student Voice: Findings from the latest survey, covering the college experience.

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