Students have been hit with a long list of abrupt educational and lifestyle changes thanks to COVID-19--here's how to support their mental health

Critical actions to support student mental health

Students have been hit with a long list of abrupt educational and lifestyle changes thanks to COVID-19--here's how to support student mental health

COVID-19 has closed physical school operations and prompted policy makers, educators, students, and parents to mull how long remote or hybrid learning will stretch into the fall. But it has also raised serious questions about student mental health and well-being.

Eighty percent of students responding to a recent survey say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.

The survey of 2,086 college students, from nonprofit Active Minds, reveals that 1 in 5 of surveyed students say their mental health has significantly worsened under COVID-19.

Related content: COVID-19 is disrupting traditional online students, too

The most common ways COVID-19 has impacted lives and student mental health are via stress or anxiety (91 percent), disappointment or sadness (81 percent), loneliness or isolation (80 percent), relocation (56 percent), and financial setbacks (48 percent).

Students also say self-care has been challenging for them–76 percent have trouble maintaining a routine, 73 percent struggle to get enough physical activity, and 63 percent find it challenging to stay connected with others.

Students also say they need more support–85 percent say focusing on school and work despite distractions has been the most difficult thing about stay-at-home orders. Students say the number one thing parents can do to support them is to simply spend time with them.

More than half of students (55 percent) say they are unsure where they would go if they or someone they knew needed professional mental health care immediately, but tools promoting social connection seem most helpful as they care for their own mental health.

Despite the virus, 79 percent of college students feel hopeful about achieving their school-related goals and their future job prospects.

According to students, the most important things for school leaders to think about in the short term and long term for student mental health during and after the pandemic include:
• Increased academic support: Leniency, accommodations, and flexibility
• More mental health resources: Increased investment in counseling and coping resources
• Focus on soft skills: Empathy, compassion, communication, understanding, and validation for the burdens students are
• More opportunities for social connection: Replace canceled events, services, and classes with virtual ones
• Engage in long-term planning: Colleges need to be prepared to help students heal and recover when they return and put in place improved practices and protocols to more easily pivot to remote learning in case of another similar crisis.

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Laura Ascione