Student mental health worsening amid COVID-19, experts warn

Recent research has shown that a growing number of students are struggling with mental health problems amid the coronavirus pandemic—and colleges are looking for new ways to support them. A report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in four people ages 18 to 24 had “seriously considered suicide” in June, while another study found that students are showing signs of anxiety and depression at greater rates than years past. 

Experts warn of looming October dip in mental health

Kelly Davis, director of peer advocacy supports and services for Mental Health America, has voiced concern that colleges may not be prepared for the wave of students who are likely to seek out counseling this academic year. “Around October, there tends to be a dip in mental health, and that’s in students who are on campus and not during a pandemic,” Davis told Inside Higher Ed. “That’s going to be a really intense time … I think we’re going to run into a larger version of the same problem we’ve seen on campus—people are struggling, we tell them to reach out for help, but we didn’t build the help.”

Many college health services were already stretched thin before COVID-19. Inside Higher Ed says that strain has only increased as staff “balance servicing students’ mental health needs with an unprecedented level of monitoring their physical health, through COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and related care.”

Report highlights mental health needs of students of color 

Experts also are urging colleges to focus on the mental health needs of students of color, who have been doubly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the racial reckoning brought about by police killings over the past several months. The Steve Fund, a nonprofit that works to support the mental health of students of color, has released a new report offering recommendations for colleges and employers seeking to help students of color thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The report asks college officials to pay attention to “racial trauma,” foster partnerships with local businesses, encourage collaboration among departments on campus, and keep student mental health a priority even as finances tighten.  

“We really want to encourage racial trauma-informed leadership so that the leadership in academic institutions can really develop empathy towards the experiences that students of color have and to make sure that they have that empathy front and center when they’re creating resources that respond to the needs of students,” Dr. Carlota Ocampo, a member of the task force that created the report, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

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