Crunch the Numbers: The latest data on Student Wellness

An overwhelming majority (82.58%) of faculty, staff and administrators working with online students have seen an increase in demand for mental health support over the past academic year. The global survey of higher education professionals was released by the Online Learning Consortium and teletherapy provider Uwill. These findings underscore the critical importance of expanding online mental health support in an era where more than half of all U.S. college students are enrolled in online courses.

“More students are taking online courses than at any time in our history. At the same time, a deepening crisis of student mental health and an epidemic of digital isolation and loneliness are creating challenges that affect online learners in unique and profound ways,” said Michael London, founder and CEO of Uwill. “This data adds to our understanding of how mental health challenges manifest in the online environment—and the role that online faculty and staff play as first responders. We hope the findings shed new light on the issue as online programs work to center mental health and well-being in the online experience.”

The survey of 338 instructors, staff, and administrators at colleges and universities gauged the perspectives of higher education professionals on a range of issues related to online student mental health and well-being. In the 2022-23 academic year, approximately 53% of all students were enrolled in at least one online course.

According to the survey, more than 70% of respondents (71.75%) said that online students occasionally, frequently, or very frequently reach out regarding mental health concerns. More than 50% (54.79%) noted a lack of services tailored to online student needs. More than two-thirds noted online students have access to onsite counseling (66.67%), while only 39.19% mentioned teletherapy.

Due to state licensing restrictions, on-site counseling options are often limited or unavailable to students enrolled in programs outside their state of residence. While most on-site counseling services operate during traditional business hours, the vast majority of online students are more likely to work full- or part-time and seek support outside of standard working hours as they balance the demands of work, academics and family commitments.

“To make good on the full promise of online education, we must recognize and address the profound intersection between mental health and student success,” said Jennifer Mathes, Chief Executive Officer of OLC. “Even with the rising incidence of serious mental health challenges, online faculty and staff clearly can play a critical role in building thriving online student communities that prioritize and support mental health and well-being.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Faculty and Staff as Online Mental Health First Responders. Despite a significant number who report contact with students about mental health issues, a troubling percentage of faculty and staff do not feel adequately prepared to serve as mental health first responders. More than a third (37.44%) felt inadequately or very inadequately trained to recognize and respond to mental health issues with online students.
  • Need for Additional Training and Professional Development. Based on increased demand for support, an overwhelming majority (83.25%) expressed a high level of interest in receiving additional training on how to support the mental well-being of online students.
  • Awareness, Availability and Access as Barriers. Nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of respondents said that time constraints have a significant to very significant effect on hindering access to mental health services for online students. Other common issues observed by faculty and staff included limited awareness of available services (58.64%), a lack of services tailored to online student needs (54.79%), financial constraints/ insurance coverage (46.29%), lack of services in general (45.66%), and limited appointment availability (44.75%).
  • Students Not Satisfied with Mental Health and Wellness Support. More than 30% (34.83%) believe students are not satisfied with the mental health services offered by their institution.

The survey was conducted using a self-administered online questionnaire sent to faculty, staff, and administrators working with online programs. Respondents included both full- and part-time faculty and staff: 49.41% were faculty; 21.30% selected a role of “other;” 18.05% were student success/support staff; 14.79% were program or department chairs; 13.91% were academic advisors; 10.95% were institutional leaders; and 3.85% were counseling services staff. The majority of respondents (63.28%) work for public institutions, while 24.18% work for private non-profit institutions, and 12.84% work for private for-profit institutions. The survey received responses from all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as 36 countries.

Active Minds, in close collaboration with higher ed virtual health provider TimelyCare, released new data that sheds light on the close relationship between loneliness and mental health, underscoring the profound impact of loneliness on psychological distress among students.

A survey of approximately 1,100 U.S. college and university students found that nearly two-thirds (64.7%) of college students report they feel lonely, and the majority (51.7%) of college students are concerned about their friends’ mental health, and three in 10 (28.8%) college students report severe psychological distress. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called loneliness a public health “epidemic” in 2023, and the new data suggest this is particularly true for LGBQ+ college students, 70.3% of whom identified as lonely, compared to 60.6% of their non-LGBQ+ peers.

While two-thirds (62.7%) of college students believe mental health is an important campus issue, only half (50%) believe that students actively identify mental health challenges, brainstorm shared solutions, and collaborate with other students and organizations to work together to improve mental health on their college campuses.

Active Minds and TimelyCare conducted this survey in February to understand how college students value and prioritize mental health on an individual, interpersonal, community, and national level. Student perception of mental health, for themselves and others, shapes their college experience. Caring for their mental health is necessary for student engagement, belonging, retention, and degree completion. This study yields insights into college students’ sense of belonging, social connection, and shared concerns about mental health. This, in turn, strengthens Active Minds’ contributions to the mental health field by bringing light to the power already within a movement of mental health advocates. By equipping these advocates, Active Minds aims to achieve a lasting shift in how society views and prioritizes mental health.

“Loneliness is a clear factor in the well-being of college students,” said Alison Malmon, Founder & Executive Director of Active Minds. “Our data reveals not just statistics but narratives of isolation and distress. By fostering connection, empathy, and shared concern, we can rewrite the mental health story on campus. Together, as champions of well-being, we can transform isolation into community, and loneliness into belonging.”

Additional key takeaways from the data include:

  • College students who report feeling lonely are over 4 times more likely to experience severe psychological distress.
  • 28.4% of students report feeling isolated from others, 23.1% report feelings of being left out, and 21% report lacking companionship.
  • Black and Latino/a/e college students value having good mental health and taking care of their mental health the most compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
  • LGBQ+ students were more likely to prioritize their friends’ mental health than non-LGBQ+ students.
  • Over half (53.7%) of all surveyed college students shared that taking care of their mental health informs their decisions guiding their behavior and actions.
  • As compared to students attending two-year colleges, a greater percentage of students at four-year colleges and universities agree that students on their campus are concerned about mental health, talk openly about mental health, believe that mental health impacts their campus community, and work together to improve student mental health.

“Colleges and universities are heavily invested in student mental health, and these findings underscore the crucial role of nurturing their sense of belonging and ensuring they have a range of support resources at all times,” emphasized Bob Booth, M.D., Chief Care Officer, TimelyCare. “Peer communities can be very effective as they allow students to provide support and encouragement to those who are struggling and let them know they are not alone. TimelyCare is proud to partner with Active Minds to change the culture around mental health and help students be well and thrive in all aspects of their lives.”

You may download the full report, here.

During a recent event hosted by Medicat and ConcernCenter, data from 216 colleges and universities across the country gave us a glimpse into the top concerns students are searching for.

According to ConcernCenter, students’ top concerns are:

  1. Food: Many students struggle to afford nutritious meals, leading to issues like hunger, malnutrition, and poor concentration.
  2. Housing: The lack of affordable housing options forces some students to live in substandard conditions or face homelessness.
  3. Anxiety: More students than ever live with anxiety. Stigma and logistical barriers to treatment can keep students struggling.
  4. Stress: The pressures of coursework, finances, and adjusting to living independently can take a significant toll on college students.
  5. Mental Health: It’s interesting that this was one of the top concerns searched by students. As such a large umbrella term for many struggles students are facing, it’s hard to know exactly what kind of support students are looking for.

The top two concerns outlined above are related to basic human needs. Schools nationwide are expanding Basic Needs Hubs to combat food insecurity and homelessness amongst their campus communities. However, stigma related to seeking support for basic needs remains strong, making it imperative for colleges and universities to make sure students can easily and discreetly access information about basic needs support available to them.

Additionally, mental health concerns remain top of mind. According to the 2023 Healthy Minds Study, most college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem. Thus, it’s not surprising that students are seeking mental health support at higher rates than ever, placing unsustainable demand on counseling resources.

This is where effective campus resource promotion becomes imperative.

Together with ConcernCenter, Medicat has released a guide designed to inspire higher ed health, wellness, and counseling professionals to think outside the box when it comes to promoting the wealth of resources offered to students.

To download “22 Innovative Ways You Can Promote Campus Resources,” click here.

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Kevin Hogan

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