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A student sits alone in a dining facility

Two-thirds of college students say they feel lonely. Here are four practices higher education leaders can consider to address student mental health.

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Traditional-aged college students face a variety of challenges in their postsecondary journeys, and mental health continues to be a barrier to degree attainment and thriving in college.

This past year, the U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy declared an epidemic of loneliness among Americans and particularly among young people, who are experiencing heightened levels of social isolation and a lack of connection to their peers.

Recent data by TimelyCare and Active Minds finds three in 10 students experience severe psychological distress and two-thirds of college students report feeling lonely. The report, published May 22, identifies a need for practitioners to bring students together to address mental health concerns, both for their own benefit but also the overall campus wellness.

Declining Student Mental Health

A growing number of studies find students are experiencing historically high levels of anxiety, psychological distress, depression and general hopelessness.

Read more about student health and wellness here.

State of play: Survey results revealed two in 10 students say they lack companionship (21 percent) and more say they feel left out (23 percent) and often isolated from other (28 percent).

Today’s traditional-aged college students spent some or most of their high school experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in stay-at-home orders and isolation in many parts of the country, reducing students’ ability to engage with one another. Heightened political tensions have also made students less likely to engage authentically with their peers.


Active Minds and TimelyCare’s survey was conducted online and fielded during February 2024. All of the 1,089 respondents were current college students ages 18- to 26-years-old at two- and four-year institutions.

While 64 percent of students say they experience loneliness, LGBTQ+ students were more likely to say they feel lonely (70 percent), isolated from their peers (33 percent) or often feel left out (26 percent). State legislation has impacted LGBTQ+ student rights and services at many colleges and universities, which could contribute to students’ feelings as well.

Students in the driver’s seat: However, a majority of students believe having good mental health is important (62 percent) and just over half of students say they prioritize their mental health when guiding behaviors and actions (53 percent). Half of students also say they are concerned about their friends’ mental health (51 percent), highlighting both the prevalence of mental health concerns but also empathy among learners.

Black and Latino students were mostly like to say they have good mental health (78 and 68 percent, respectively) as well as say they take care of their mental health (68 and 61 percent, respectively).

Three in four (78 percent) college students say mental health impacts their campus community, but only half believe that their peers identify mental health challenges, brainstorm shared solutions and collaborate with other students and organizations to work to improve mental health on their campus.

Students at four-year institutions were more likely to say students at their institution are concerned about mental health (70 percent), talk openly about mental health (70 percent) and work together to improve mental health (58 percent). This demonstrates a gap in care and culture around mental health at two-year institutions, where only half believe students at their college are concerned about mental health (52 percent).

So what: Based on the survey results, the report recommends four practices for higher education leaders and those in student-facing roles.

  • Address the epidemic of loneliness on campus. “Loneliness is one of the top predictors of negative mental health outcomes,” according to the report. Facilitating connection, creating spaces for students to engage (either in-person or online) and establish relationships can help the individual, their friends and their peers at large. LGBTQ+ students had the highest levels of loneliness, so creating intentional spaces for this group is also critical.
  • Tailor mental health resources. When looking at the data, Black and Latino students were most likely to say they prioritize and care for their mental health, so finding resources that speak to these student groups can help them in this work, such as hiring diverse staff and making resources culturally competent.
  • Equip students to help each other. Half of students say they are concerned about their friends’ mental health, so gearing resources and education toward current students can address the overall campus environment and the individual student in seeking help or giving it.
  • Encourage student voices in decision-making. Most students say they care about mental health, so finding avenues for students to give feedback such as a student representative role, student committees or partnership with student organizations.

Do you have a wellness tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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