Spencer Platt/Getty Images News
A significant number of college students experience some kind of mental health concern, whether it’s chronic stress, anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation.
A January report from the College Student Wellness Advocacy Coalition and the Hi, How Are You Project highlights trends in wellness among residential students and how colleges and universities can better support their learners.
Researchers found, among students who reported positive feelings around their lives and future lives, they were more likely to feel thankful, happy and connected to their peers and more likely to identify resources to support their mental health.
The 2023 Thriving College Student Survey was conducted in October 2023 by Ipsos, commissioned by the College Student Mental Wellness Advocacy Coalition and the Hi, How Are You Project, with support from the Jed Foundation. The survey was distributed through housing providers that are members of the coalition, with 29,791 students participating.
Getting a pulse: Across survey participants, around two-thirds (65 percent) say they feel stressed often or all the time, and 57 percent report feeling anxious, worried or overwhelmed often or all the time. However, over half (55 percent) of students say they feel happy all the time or often.
Students were asked to rate their current lives and expectations for their future lives on a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the worst possible and 10 the best possible life. Based on these ratings, students were categorized, with respondents assessing their current lives as seven or above categorized as “thriving,” those rating their lives between five and six as “maintaining,” and those at or below four as “struggling.”
Struggling students were more likely to report having a mental health disorder (62 percent) than the general population (43 percent).
Identifying flourishing: Thriving students were more likely to engage in healthy habits, including socializing, spending time outside, getting good sleep, exercising, eating healthfully and engaging with their faith compared to their peers.
Struggling students were most likely to say they’re stressed out (88 percent), anxious or worried (85 percent), and lonely (76 percent). In comparison, a majority of thriving students felt thankful (79 percent) and happy (76 percent), while only half (53 percent) felt stressed out.
Finding resources: When surveyed on their attitudes toward finding mental health supports, thriving students were most likely to say they could find professional help (80 percent), access free information about mental health (74 percent) or make time in their schedules for mental health treatment (46 percent).
Across survey respondents, students go to their friends (40 percent), parents (37 percent) and other important figures in their life (23 percent) for help all the time of often. Only 8 percent of students said they regularly turn to their professors or counselors for help, however, 69 percent say they trust university teachers or counselors to provide reliable information on mental health, following doctors (85 percent), friends (84 percent), parents (82 percent) and other important figures (72 percent), respectively.
Struggling students were least likely to have people to turn to, with only one in five saying they could turn to a friend for mental health information and 39 percent feeling comfortable discussing their mental health with people close to them.
Peer Support Models
According to survey respondents, 90 percent of students have used their friends as a source of information about mental health, with 40 percent utilizing their friends often or all the time. Several colleges and universities have implemented peer support models to meet struggling students where they are. Read more here.
To destress, 82 percent of students say they listen to music, 67 percent socialize with friends, 59 watch TV or movies, and 43 percent spend time outside.
Recommendations: The report offers four suggestions for education professionals to support students and promote thriving in their communities.
- Implement staff training. Residential life staff should be trained on how to support students’ mental health and well-being and when and where to refer them to resources. This can also help them foster dialogue about mental health among both colleagues and residents.
- Provide health education. Campus stakeholders can share more about behaviors that promote good mental health and accessible ways to adopt these habits.
- Highlight campus resources. Pointing students to already existing programs and amenities can help them improve their well-being. Cross-campus collaboration, including working with the counseling center, can help staff identify appropriate resources for students.
- Create well-being events. Programming, including events and activities, can both supply students with information but also connect them with their peers and staff. Music-oriented events could target students’ interests.
Seeking stories from campus leaders, faculty members and staff for our Student Success focus. Share here.