Depression Rates Soar in College Students
Our next generation of college students are stumbling and falling blindly as the pandemic swirls chaos around them. Separated from their families, isolated in dorms, engulfed with sicknesses, and chronic confusion between online and in-person classes, these young adults are revealing dangerously high levels of escalating depression and suicide. Simultaneously expected to keep pace with participation in classes, group projects, assignments, tests, and grades, some college students may be on the verge of collapse. Mental health struggles amidst such dire circumstances and high expectations could be a set-up for failure and may lead to an increasing number of students withdrawing from or failing classes.
The statistics are frightening:
- “Today, suicide is the second-most leading cause of death among college students. The incidents of suicide in college students and young adults have increased in the decades gone by.”
- “Depression impedes the normal functioning of 45.1 percent of the students.”
- “Depression rates for college students doubled over the past decade.”
- “Overwhelming levels of anxiety are experienced by almost 66 percent of college students.”
- “80 percent of college students experience considerable amounts of stress.”
- “More than 50 percent of college students find academics traumatic.”
- “1 in 4 college students has a mental illness.”
- “About 50 percent of students reported that their college didn’t know about their mental illness.”
- “A more disturbing fact is that many students do not get medical help to deal with depression.”
As we send off our youth with much hope and joy for their future development and academic careers, we tend to ignore the reality of the silent pandemic that is crippling our students. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states, “Even after we started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when vaccination came into place, the mental well-being of students is unfortunately not back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Osea Giuntella, a University of Pittsburgh health economist and one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports in December.”
A recent article from the NY Times highlights how there has been an increasing spate of suicides amongst college students and that chronic vacillation between remote vs. in-person schooling, constant testing, social restrictions, and masking, in conjunction with the expectation that students should be back on top of their game with productivity, performance, and grades, many students are depressed, isolated, and anxious. The article further states, “Now another swell of Covid cases, driven by the Omicron variant, threatens to make life on campus worse.”
It is no longer feasible to expect students to “simply go on,” and manage their stress and depression while juggling classes and frayed social connections. Administrators, faculty, professionals, and parents need to seriously reconsider their expectations of students and create overarching safety nets and acceptance of a generation in crisis. Students should be empowered in every aspect of their academic and emotional well being by:
- Being allowed to take classes pass/fail.
- Being allowed to choose between remote and online learning.
- Being allowed to attend college part-time.
- Being allowed to replace quizzes and tests with conversations and projects.
- Being allowed to withdraw with full refunds at the end of the term.
- Being provided mental health resources and support in the classroom on a regular basis.
- Being allowed extra time for completion of assignments.
- Being allowed mental health days for rest and recreation.
Colleges should also seriously consider obtaining releases to contact parents if they have concerns about students’ well-being. Early intervention is prevention, and family members can be a critical source of support, and can, perhaps, prevent fatal choices of depressed students. A silent pandemic continues as depression and suicides ravage our college students’ emotional and physical well-being. As administrators, faculty, professionals, and parents, we must step up and hold our children for some time longer. Otherwise, we are likely to lose more of our loved ones to the mental health crises on college campuses.