Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

Report: Majority of College Students Feel Lonely, Many Face Psychological Distress

Most college students have felt lonely. And a sizable portion have faced forms of psychological distress, according to a recent report from mental health nonprofit Active Minds and telehealth company Timely Care.Amy GattoAmy Gatto

For the report, researchers looked at online survey responses from around 1,100 college and university students in February 2024, asking them about their mental health, levels of psychological distress, and concern about their mental health and that of others.

“What we have been seeing is that prevalence and severity of mental health concerns has been increasing over the past decade,” said Amy Gatto, vice president of measurement at Active Minds.

Respondents were asked to gauge how often they felt various signs of psychological distress in the past 30 days. More than a third (36%) answered that they had felt that everything was an effort, followed by about a third (32%) saying that they had felt nervous, restless, or fidgety. Smaller percentages of respondents reported feeling hopeless (16%), worthless (14%), and so sad that nothing could cheer them up (12%).

About one-in-three responding college students said they experienced severe psychological distress, a kind of distress that has ties to feelings of loneliness, according to the report.

Those feeling lonely were more than four times as likely to face high psychological distress, the report noted.

About two-thirds of respondents (65%) reported feeling lonely. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ+) students in particular experienced these hardships, with more than 70% describing feelings of loneliness, while non-LGBQ+ students were less likely (61%) to feel the same.

And while 20-30% of all respondents reported feeling isolated, left out, and not having companionship, the likelihood of such emotions occurring was slightly higher for LGBQ+ respondents, researchers found.

Psychological distress also had ties to experiences of discrimination, less support from friends and family, less shared concern about mental health, and poor perceptions of whether their school values mental health, according to the report.

Not only are college students mindful of their own mental health – 54% said they are taking care of it, especially Black and Latine students – but they are also concerned about the mental well-being of those around them, researchers found. More than half of the respondents (52%) said they were concerned about the mental health of their friends and more than a third (39%) said they felt the same for their peers.

“I think, sometimes, there's this narrative – especially when we think about the mental health crisis – that college students maybe aren't prioritizing or valuing their mental health,” Gatto said. “And what we've seen at Active Minds and what this data's showing is that, on a whole, they do."

LGBQ+, transgender, nonbinary, and questioning students did not appear to have higher levels of valuing and prioritizing their mental health. But when it comes to that of their friends, such students were more likely to be concerned and cognizant, researchers found.

In contrast, cisgender men were found to be the least likely to be concerned about their friends’ mental health and helping them take care of it.

By and large, students attending four-year schools were more likely than those at two-year institutions to answer that their fellow students are open and concerned about mental health and recognize its importance.

For comparison, 81% of students from four-year schools responded that they believe students at their school feel that mental health impacts their campus community, 63% of students from two-year schools answered similarly. Multiracial students (84%) and Asian-American/Asian students (83%) were mostly likely to believe as much, followed by white (79%), Black (73%), and Latine (66%) students.

Things tend to change when students go to college, said practicing clinician Seli Fakorzi, director of mental health operations at Timely Care. Relationships change. Close friends and family may not be nearby or as accessible anymore. Such changes can affect how well a student adjusts to campus, she said.

“Now that they have moved to a new location or live far away [to go to school], they have to find a new community to identify with,” Fakorzi said. “Sometimes, any adjustments around living situations, core support systems, friends and relationships, all those things involved, can really cause some shifts in a young adult's life.

“And it makes it a little bit difficult to assimilate to some campus life situations or communities, depending on what the campus community looks like also.”

The trusted source for all job seekers
We have an extensive variety of listings for both academic and non-academic positions at postsecondary institutions.
Read More
The trusted source for all job seekers