Past work has evidenced increased utilization of mental health services on college campuses, as well as rising rates of mood and suicide-related pathology in adolescents and young adults in recent years. We examined whether such findings are reflective of large-scale, nationwide trends in college student mental health in the past decade.
We examined trends in mood, anxiety, and suicide-related outcomes among U.S. college students from 2007 to 2018 across two large national datasets: (1) the National College Health Assessment (n = 610,543; mean age = 21.25 years; 67.7% female; and 72.0% white) and (2) the Healthy Minds Study (n = 177,692; 86% students aged 18–22 years; 57% female; and 74% white). Participants, randomly selected by their educational institution, completed self-report measures of past-year mood, anxiety, nonsuicidal self-injury, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
In both samples, rates of depression, anxiety, nonsuicidal self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts markedly increased over the assessed years, with rates doubling over the period in many cases. Anger, low flourishing, and suicide plans, each assessed in only one dataset, also exhibited upward trends.
Findings demonstrate a broad worsening of mental health among U.S. college students over the past decade, a concerning result meriting further attention and intervention.