About one-third of students who sought care from their college counseling center during the second half of 2020 said their visit was related to the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data released Tuesday by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a research group made up of college counseling centers and based at Pennsylvania State University.
Throughout February and into March, the center plans to publish five weekly blog posts that analyze survey data from nearly 50,000 students who visited 143 campus counseling centers nationwide between July and December 2020 and provide insight on how the pandemic has affected student mental health. The center’s first post said 33 percent of these students indicated they visited their campus center for a mental health issue related to COVID-19 or events linked to the pandemic, while 67 percent sought support for unrelated reasons.
Sixty-five percent of the students said the pandemic has led to some mental health challenges, and 61 percent said it hurt their “motivation and focus,” the post said. Sixty percent of the students said the pandemic has caused “loneliness or isolation,” and 59 percent said it has negatively affected their academics, according to the post.
Students who said the pandemic was their primary reason for going to the counseling center reported slightly higher rates of depression, anxiety and academic stress than both the 2019 national average and of students who said they sought counseling for reasons other than the pandemic, the post said. Across the board, students who indicated COVID-19 had some form of negative mental health impact were more likely to be experiencing depression, anxiety, academic stress and eating concerns, among other effects, the post said.
“Academic distress appears to be a key driver in seeking mental-health care during COVID-19, which may represent a broader experience of distress caused by academic worry,” the post concluded. “It will be essential for colleges and universities to be attentive, prepared, resourced, and creative to address the ongoing and future challenges encountered by students due to the pandemic, especially as they re-integrate to pre-COVID-19 student life.”