65% of College Students Are Lonely, New Report Finds

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

65% of College Students Are Lonely, New Report Finds

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Nearly two-thirds (64.7%) of college students report feeling lonely and more than half (51.7%) are concerned about their friends’ mental health, according to new data.

Active Minds, in collaboration with TimelyCare, surveyed about 1,100 U.S. college students in Feb. 2024 and determined college students who report feeling lonely are over four times more likely to experience severe psychological distress, which nearly three in 10 (28.8%) say they are currently suffering from.

Broken down using frequent symptoms on the Kessler K6 psychological distress scale, during the previous 30 days, respondents reported they:

  • Felt that everything takes effort (35.7%)
  • Felt nervous (32.4%)
  • Felt restless or fidgety (32%)
  • Felt hopeless (15.8%)
  • Felt worthless (14%)
  • Felt so sad that nothing could cheer them up most or all of the time (11.55%)

LGBTQ+ college students were more likely to report feeling lonely (70.3%) than non-LGBTQ+ college students (60.6%). Among LGBTQ+ college students, 33.8% feel like they often are isolated from others, 26.9% often feel left out, and 22.6% feel like they often lack companionship. Among LGBQ+ college students, loneliness is associated with high levels of psychological distress.

College Students’ Views on Mental Health

When asked about their views on mental health, around 63% of college students said they believe having good mental health is important and 54% said taking care of their mental health informs their decisions guiding their behavior and actions.

Black and Latino/a/e college students are also more likely to agree that having good mental health and taking care of their mental health is important compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

The survey also found a strong positive association between being concerned about friends’ mental health and helping their friends take care of their mental health. Students who identify as transgender, nonbinary, or questioning are more likely to agree they are concerned about their friends’ mental health and that helping their friends take care of their mental health is important.

How to Improve College Student Mental Health

Loneliness is one of the top predictors of psychological distress and negative mental health outcomes, and colleges are uniquely positioned to support and address student mental health needs, the researchers urge.

Several ways the survey says colleges can support student mental health include:

  1. Addressing the epidemic of loneliness, especially for LGBTQ+ students
    • Facilitating connections and creating in-person or virtual spaces to establish relationships with others may be beneficial for the individual, their friends, and their peers at large
  2. Tailor mental health resources to students’ needs and identities
    • For example, ensuring access to mental health providers who identify as people of color, speak multiple languages, and reflect students’ lived identities may make students feel more comfortable seeking support
  3. Equip students with skills to support each other
    • Programs aimed at the interpersonal level, such as formal or informal peer support programs, emotional literacy programs, peer coaching programs, and virtual peer communities, may help students gain the knowledge and skills to adequately support their friends without feeling like they have to be an expert to help
  4. Encourage student voices and advocacy in decision-making
    • This may include having student representation on a mental health task force or student fee committees, encouraging collaboration between student organizations for campus-wide change, and co-writing college and university mental health policies with students

“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,” said 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.”

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About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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