Both trauma and social anxiety are on the rise among college students seeking on-campus mental health treatment, according to a new report from the University Mental Health Center at Pennsylvania State University.
The report, released Wednesday, also explored the relationship between mental health and academic performance, finding that students with certain mental health risk factors were more likely than their peers to drop out of college. Students’ mental health improved more when they were enrolled than when they dropped out.
This report is based on data from 180 college counseling centers representing approximately 200,000 students.
The results paint a nuanced picture of how students are behaving. The proportion of students coming to counseling centers with anxiety concerns remained flat during 2021-2022, while the proportion of students concerned about depression and suicidal ideation decreased slightly.Student self-reported Levels of anxiety and depression increased slightly over the same period, while levels of self-reported academic distress decreased slightly. Academic distress remained higher than before the pandemic.
But overall, it’s clear that students are struggling. Over the past 12 years, student anxiety and depression have been steadily increasing.
Brett E. Schofield, executive director of the university’s Center for Mental Health, said the report’s findings show that counseling services are critical to student retention.
“When students improve during treatment at a counseling center, they are more likely to stay in school,” Scofield said.
Increased trauma reports
The prevalence of students reporting a history of trauma when they first received counseling services was higher in the past decade than other aspects of their mental health treatment history, including prior counseling, drug use, hospitalization, and alcohol treatment. is also increasing.Use. Injuries assessed by clinicians on a student’s first visit to a counseling center have also increased over the past decade.
The report attributes the increase in students reporting trauma to childhood emotional abuse and sexual violence. The traumatic event described by the student was more likely to have happened years ago, rather than recently.
Scofield says there are several theories as to why trauma is on the rise. He said students may be more open to reporting traumatic events than they used to be. Additionally, given increased surveillance for on-campus sexual assault over the past decade, colleges and universities may have improved their traumatic incident reporting systems, he said.
Growing social unrest
The number of students experiencing social anxiety increased significantly from 2021 to 2022, making it the psychological condition with the greatest change in the last 12 years. Cases of depression and generalized anxiety disorder have also increased steadily over the past decade.
Scofield said increased social media use, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the return of students to in-person learning may have contributed to the significant rise in social unrest.
“Given the gradual increase over the last 12 years, the long-term increase is likely due to an increase in the level of isolation students felt and some of the social comparison processes commonly felt and experienced through social media.” usage,” Scofield said.
who will drop out?
About 3% of students who used campus counseling services between 2017 and 2022 voluntarily dropped out of college. This is based on data from approximately 156,000 students who sought treatment at 95 institutions.
We found high dropout rates in some demographic groups, including students with varying gender identities, students with disabilities, freshmen, and veterans. Racially diverse students, transfer students, first-generation students, and international students were, on average, less likely to drop out.
Schofield said the report did not collect data on the specific reasons students dropped out of college. However, several factors made students more likely to quit their studies. Students who reported a history of psychiatric hospitalization or alcohol or substance abuse were nearly twice as likely to drop out as the average student receiving counseling. Financial stress also increased the risk of student dropout. Students who participated in extracurricular activities and received family and social support were less likely to graduate from college.
First-year students with increased academic distress and a history of psychiatric hospitalization when they started treatment in a counseling center were more likely to drop out of college than the average student who received counseling. 48% higher. By participating in extracurricular activities, he reduced the risk of these students dropping out by 12%.
Schofield said the report’s findings emphasized the importance of counseling centers, but showed that counseling centers weren’t the only safety net students needed.
“It’s important to support counseling centers, and it’s also important to recognize that counseling centers are just one part of a larger, comprehensive support system needed to foster student success.” said Scofield.