There’s been a lot of recent interest in studying college students — what determines productivity, grades, and overall happiness.

This particular age bracket is important, since 75% of of the mental health challenges someone will face throughout their life will have onset by age 24 — says Sarah K Lipson of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

That means that the degree of anxiety, depression, or other factors that can negatively impact a young person’s success in life become defined in the mid twenties, and if their college experience brings about or exacerbates these issues they could affect that person for many years beyond college.

Lipson’s studies led her to ask specific questions about mental health in college, and not simply which things lead to depression. In this case, are there differences in circumstance, resilience, or likelihood of developing mental health disorders for different ethnicity? (Source)

The resulting study looked at survey data from 350,000 students over a span of 8 years (from 2013-2021), across many campuses. The information was evaluated in these ways:

  • Did each student experience mental health issues during their college experience?
  • To what level did they seem to flourish in their studies?
  • If they did experience mental health issues, did they receive treatment for them during their college tenure?

The Findings, Part 1

After reviewing the data, researchers saw a clear and unfortunate trend. Over that 8 year span, college students were on a steady decline in terms of depression. In fact, they noticed incidences of depression had increased by 135% over those 8 years, with a corresponding increase of anxiety by 110%.

Simply put, cases of depression and anxiety had more than doubled since 2013.

This also seems significant because the study includes data from quite a few years prior to the 2020 pandemic. Not to make light of any of the negative consequences of the isolation post 2020, but it would be simple to hand wave data suggesting increases in depression in the last couple years as simply a consequence of that.

In other words, the increase in depression and anxiety was already a big problem in colleges across the U.S. even before the pandemic.

The Findings, Part 2: Groups Most Affected

Researchers say that American Indians and Alaskan Natives had the highest reported cases of depression. Closer to 2013 about a third of them experienced depression, and by 2019 it’d grown to half of them.

For the group of students the study classed simply as “white,” they observed that while overt cases of depression weren’t as high, those who were depressed had much higher incidences of non-suicidal self harm. Also, eating disorders.

That’s an alarming trend, since self harm speaks to a person feeling they have nowhere else to turn, and in a sense, feeling lost in despair of their situation.

One might interpret that as a sign that too few college students feel they have somewhere to seek help, or perhaps are reluctant or afraid to seek it.

Survey data did show that over the 8 year time span more students did seek help for depression and anxiety. But unfortunately, when those numbers are held against the overall numbers of students suffering with these symptoms, it was clear the cases of mental health challenges are still outpacing those receiving help.

Another consequence of students not receiving the mental health assistance they need is reduced retention — meaning many of these students quit college before acquiring a degree.

“The same students who have the lowest rate of retention in higher education are the same students who are least likely to access mental health services when they are struggling, and mental health is a predictor of retention,” Lipson says.

We’ve blogged before about dorm cleaning and other house cleaning services that contribute to the positive experience of coming home. While we would never claim our work directly comes into play here, we have a soft spot for college students because of our various partnerships with private schools over the years.

This study is an important one, and insight like this is what paves the way for solidarity in young people’s futures.