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Rise in mental health issues as college students return to campus

A new survey from Ohio State University has concluded that rates of anxiety, burnout, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and depression are rising amongst students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research, which took place between August 2020 and April 2020, matches data found at other randomly selected college students throughout the U.S.

The “return to campus” survey was focused on 1,072 students at OSU. Among the survey participants, 42.6 percent screened positive for anxiety, 28.3 percent for depression, and 71 percent screened positive for burnout. 

The data collected in April 2021 saw consistent rises compared to data collected at the beginning of the study in August 2020. This included a four percent increase in unhealthy eating, 2.5 percent in alcohol use, two percent in smoking and vaping, and a decrease in physical activity by seven percent. The number of students seeking advice from a mental health counselor increased by eight percent. 

“Mental health promotion and access to services and evidence-based programs are going to be more important than ever,” stated Bernadette Melnyk, Chief Wellness Officer of the OSU College of Nursing. “Two-thirds of students who are no longer in college are not in college due to a mental health issue.” 

“We would not send divers into a deep ocean without an oxygen tank. How can we send our students throughout life without giving them the resiliency, cognitive-behavioral skills and coping mechanisms that we know are protective against mental health disorders and chronic disease?”

Melnyk and colleagues at other universities are using the findings to expand and integrate resources into curricula and campus life. Melnyk is co-chairing a new “return to campus” mental health commission with the senior vice president of the Office of Student Life, a commission created by OSU President Kristina Johnson. 

Methods within the commission include the creation of a new “Five to Thrive” mental health checklist for all students, which covers healthy habits, healthy coping mechanisms, and encouragement to build and access mental health support systems.

“Students who were dealing the best in terms of their emotional outcomes were connecting with family and friends, building their resiliency, and engaged in physical activity,” said Melnyk. 

“So as students are welcomed back to campus this fall, these five steps are so critically important to both fortify a foundation of mental resiliency and make self-care and mental well-being a priority. It’s actually a strength to recognize when you need mental health help; it’s not a weakness.”

By Calum Vaughan, Staff Writer

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