The worst of the pandemic is behind us. College students’ mental health needs are not – The Hechinger Report

The worst of the pandemic is behind us. College students’ mental health needs are not – The Hechinger Report

Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Higher Education newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Thursday with trends and top stories about higher education.

Dear Reader, 

If my newsletter landed in your inbox, you care about college students. If you’re a person in the world, you know that mental health challenges are real. If you had any doubts, the response to Elmo’s “How is everyone doing?” should have cleared those right up.

So, I think I can safely conclude that we agree – college student mental health matters. Now what?

We’ve been writing about student mental health since the early days of The Hechinger Report, and more recently we’ve done our best to document the challenges students and educators faced throughout the pandemic.

We wrote about the anxiety and despair students felt in early Covid isolation. We wrote about college students facing increased symptoms of burnout. Although people of all backgrounds deal with mental health issues, we wrote about how students from marginalized racial and ethnic groups, religious communities, and the LGBTQ+ community faced particular challenges and often lacked access to culturally responsive counseling. We wrote about the pricey mental health recovery programs students often turn to when they take mental health leaves of absence from college. We wrote about how overscheduling kids can lead to depression and anxiety. We wrote about folks trying to answer the question: Is mental health care a job for schools?  

Our colleagues across education journalism are pushing the conversation forward, too. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote last week about tech companies attempting to fill the void of student need that can’t be met by college counseling centers. EdSource wrote about the way some colleges are taking advantage of their outdoor space to support student mental health. Inside Higher Ed has reported on college counseling centers facing increased demand for trauma counseling.  

A recent story in The New York Times offered a haunting portrait of how faculty and staff at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are responding to the campus mental health crisis.

Clearly, stories of complex personal and community suffering are still out there, well beyond the worst of the pandemic years, and we think these stories are worth telling.

Data shows that current college students are struggling — roughly 40 percent of them experience some level of depression, and 36 percent screened positive for anxiety disorders, according to the 2022-2023 Healthy Minds Study, a study on college student mental health from the University of Michigan. Nearly half of the college students surveyed reported they had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime. 

And mental health concerns can act as an obstacle for students currently considering college. A new survey from the education consulting firm EAB found that 28 percent of high school students said that mental health concerns are a key reason they might postpone enrolling or opt out of college altogether. These concerns are more pronounced for students in certain underrepresented groups: More than half of transgender and nonbinary students reported feeling this way, one third of Black students, and 30 percent of Native American students.

Among the 6,330 high school students surveyed, 48 percent said that “stress and anxiety overshadow their college search and planning.”

The mental health needs of college students are clearly immense. They may also be changing. How is the world of higher education adapting to meet these needs?

Help us decide what to write about next. Under the broad umbrella of college students’ mental health, what are you curious about? What worries you? What gives you hope? Email me and share your thoughts. 

I can’t wait to hear from you. Thank you,


If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988 and the Crisis Text Line — text HOME to 741741 — are free, 24-hour services that can provide support, information and resources.

This story about college student mental health crisis was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn’t mean it’s free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

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