College Mental Health: 59% of Students Have Anxiety, 43% Are Depressed

More than 60% of college students are also struggling with classroom engagement and retention, and students who take all online classes are more likely to be depressed.

College Mental Health: 59% of Students Have Anxiety, 43% Are Depressed

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The vast majority of college students are struggling emotionally and 58% are facing declining mental and emotional health, according to a new report.

The Student Mental Health Landscape, released on March 11 by research publisher Wiley, shows that post-pandemic, more than 80% of college students are struggling emotionally at least somewhat, with more than 25% reporting they are struggling significantly. Students are largely dealing with anxiety (59%), burnout (58%), and depression (43%).

Students cited several challenges that are impacting their mental health, including balancing school with work or family (59%), paying for tuition (50%) and living expenses (49%), and uncertainty on how to best prepare for a future career (41%). Another 61% said they struggle with classroom engagement and retention, with 25% reporting they have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Students also said they noticed an increase in mental health difficulties among their peers, including more anxiety, particularly in social settings, and less motivation and engagement with school. The report says the return to in-person classes, the isolation felt during lockdown, and a lack of community and social engagements are among the reasons students cited for the changes they are seeing among their peers.

Students’ educational preferences have also changed since the pandemic with over 50% preferring hybrid or fully online classes. However, students who take online courses are more likely to struggle with depression (56%), the report found.

Who Are College Students Turning to for Support?

As college students continue to struggle with their mental health, 83% say they are turning to family and friends to help them cope, which might in part explain the report’s finding that students who take only online classes are more likely to be depressed as they have less social interaction.

Another 25% reported getting help from a counselor or therapist outside of school and only 14% reported using college health services. Approximately a third of students reported seeking out more counseling for their mental health post-pandemic, with 14% seeking out significantly more help.

Respondents’ top five reasons for seeking more mental health counseling or therapy include:

  1. Symptoms got worse/need more help post-pandemic (48%)
  2. Stress balancing school and work/life (18%)
  3. Anxiety (15%)
  4. Want to feel better (10%)
  5. Depression (8%)

While more are seeking mental health support, suggesting a stigma reduction, there is still a significant shortage of mental health care providers across the country. According to a Dec. 2023 study from Access Across America, in 2021, roughly two-thirds of Americans with a diagnosed mental health condition were unable to access treatment.

Some students (23%) also reported taking medication to help with their mental and emotional health. While 62% are taking the same amount of medication post-pandemic, 22% are taking more than they were before the pandemic. Of those taking online classes, 30% are more likely to take more medication post-pandemic.

Forty-six percent of students also reported that receiving extra support from instructors has positively impacted their mental and emotional health. However, according to a national survey by TimelyCare, more than half (53%) of college faculty and staff have considered leaving their jobs due to burnout, increased workload, and stress. Part of the problem is the vast majority (76%) feel supporting students’ mental health has become a job expectation.

Nearly 50% of faculty said supporting students’ mental health needs has “taken a toll on my own mental and emotional health,” and 81% feel their institution should be investing more resources to support faculty and staff mental health and wellbeing.

Read more on college faculty burnout statistics

The study also found discussions and attendance have a positive impact on student wellness, emphasizing the importance of community and in-person social interactions

More Students Consider Delaying Graduation

Among increasing pressures and mental health concerns, more students are considering delaying graduation or taking a gap year. Around 22% of students have delayed their graduation date, with an additional 51% considering delaying graduation. Another 17% of students took a gap year and 53% are considering doing so. Although only 1% of students have dropped out of college, 17% are considering it.

“We are all exhausted. Most of my peers (myself included) are frustrated that our graduation dates have been postponed and are trying to push through to make up for it,” one respondent wrote. “But then people are just pushing too hard and not dealing with their burnout.”

The top five factors in students’ decisions to take or consider taking a gap year or dropping out are:

  1. Declining emotional/mental health (58%)
  2. Too much course load (31%)
  3. Seeking a better quality of life (24%)
  4. Can’t afford tuition (23%)
  5. Unsure which degree they want to pursue (21%)

Recommendations for Addressing Student Mental Health Crisis

A recent survey by Inside Higher Ed found approximately 65% of college presidents indicate they plan to increase their institution’s capacity to meet the mental health needs of students, staff, and faculty members. While many of those initiatives are underway, the Wiley report offers several recommendations for institutions to improve student wellness:

  1. Addressing student preference for hybrid learning: Schools should offer more flexible and hybrid programs to keep up with students’ changing needs and challenges.
  2. Increasing student engagement: Offering more class discussions and group projects has the potential to increase engagement and help students focus and retain material while decreasing emotional stress.
  3. Providing more instructor support: Nearly half of the students cited that receiving extra support from instructors improved their mental health. Instructors must have access to extra support as well to help with increased workload and expectations.
  4. Maximizing opportunities for peer support: Offering more opportunities for students to interact with each other can help elevate some emotional struggles.

Wiley Survey Methodology

Wiley’s Student Mental Health Landscape survey was taken in Nov. 2023 by 2,574 students — mostly undergraduates — at four-year public and private colleges and some two-year colleges of varying sizes across the United States and Canada.

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About the Author


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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2 responses to “College Mental Health: 59% of Students Have Anxiety, 43% Are Depressed”

  1. Randy says:

    Declining emotional/mental health (58%) – Self-awareness (medical/emotional assistance) and promote a healthy lifestyle. Recent news articles on spring break students, alcohol induced fraternity deaths, demonstrates social issues (violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, unsafe practices) induced that are definitely self-induced and most are initially self-aware of the hazards.

    Too much course load (31%) – Self-induced, academic advisors generally less concerned with overloading a student and often do not inquire about the student’s life style or work load. Athletic directors do not mandate or enforce GPA requirements. Let’s be real sports runs colleges, change my mind.

    Seeking a better quality of life (24%) – I believe that’s most everyone in a college or university, welcome to the club. Another aspect is don’t go to college and seek trade schooling, it pays more with less investments, those are facts. Quit pushing (academic grooming) college in High School settings.

    Can’t afford tuition (23%) – This definitely falls directly upon the college and universities. The vast majority have a healthy surplus of funds (assists and investments) that could easily cover the cost of assistance needed by students. Cut administration salary (they will be fine they are paid handsomely) it’s usually public record.

    Unsure which degree they want to pursue (21%) – Start with a two-year liberal arts degree as a base for any bachelors or higher, most credits are generally transferrable to the higher degrees. Once again, the colleges/universities should be advising this to students to do this but fail too.

  2. Doug Leard says:

    Who made this assessment/diagnosis?
    What questions were asked of the students?
    Were student parents/caregivers involved in this diagnostic process?
    The public needs more information!

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