Study Looks at the Mental Health and Help-Seeking of College Students of Color

A new study led by Sarah K. Lipson, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at the Boston University School of Public Health, finds that depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are commonplace among college students and take a toll on students of color unequally.

The study looks at survey data collected by the Healthy Minds Network between 2013 and 2021 from 350,000 students at over 300 college campuses. It’s the first long-term, multicampus study of its kind to parse out differences in treatment and prevalence of mental health issues across race and ethnicity.

They found that the mental health of college students across the United States has been on a consistent decline for all eight years of data analyzed, with an overall 135 percent increase in depression and 110 percent increase in anxiety from 2013 to 2021; the number of students who met the criteria for one or more mental health problems in 2021 had doubled from 2013.

For White students, the prevalence of non-suicidal self-injury and symptoms of eating disorders increased most significantly compared to other groups. In all other categories — depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and one or more mental health problems — increases were seen the most among nonwhite students.

“One of the most important aspects of this study is documenting these inequalities and communicating them to folks who can use this information to enact change,” Dr. Lipson said. For colleges across the country worried about retention rates — many colleges are seeing more students quit before completing their studies — she says the conversations about retaining students and mental health need to be brought together. It’s often the “same students who have the lowest rate of retention in higher education [who] 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,” Dr. Lipson said.

The full study, “Trends in College Student Mental Health and Help-Seeking by Race/Ethnicity: Findings From the National Healthy Minds Study, 2013–2021,” was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. It may be accessed here.

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