College students who report feelings of loneliness are over 4 times more likely to experience severe mental health distress.

Student loneliness has strong links to mental health distress


College students who report feeling lonely are over 4 times more likely to experience severe psychological distress

Key points:

An alarming two-thirds of college students report feeling lonely, and most students are concerned about their friends’ mental health, according to a survey from Active Minds, conducted in close collaboration with higher-ed virtual health provider TimelyCare.

The new data 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 percent) of college students report they feel lonely, the majority (51.7 percent) of college students are concerned about their friends’ mental health, and three in 10 (28.8 percent) 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 percent of whom identified as lonely, compared to 60.6 percent of their non-LGBQ+ peers.

While two-thirds (62.7 percent) of college students believe mental health is an important campus issue, only half (50 percent) 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.

The survey is intended to shed light on 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. The study yields insights into college students’ sense of belonging, social connection, and shared concerns about mental health.

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 percent of students report feeling isolated from others, 23.1 percent report feelings of being left out, and 21 percent 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 percent) 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.

“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.”

“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.”

This press release originally appeared online.

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Laura Ascione

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