New Thriving College Student Index Provides Annual Benchmark of Mental Health and Wellness Categorizing Students as Thriving, Maintaining and Struggling

Forty percent of students are considered to be thriving and they are more social and far more likely to report that their mental health has been good in the past month.

It is encouraging to see that many college students are thriving even amid high levels of stress and anxiety. This new index will allow us to check in with students annually to learn directly from them what habits, environments and relationships foster their mental wellbeing.

The first annual Thriving College Student Index Report, highlighting findings from the largest mental wellness survey of its kind, was released today by the mental health awareness non-profit Hi, How Are You Project, and the College Student Mental Wellness Advocacy Coalition. Conducted by Ipsos, a world leader in research, the survey was completed by 18,168 college students during Mental Health Awareness Month in October 2022 to learn directly from them what habits, behaviors, environments and relationships foster their mental wellbeing.

The Thriving College Student Index is designed to be a valuable resource for students, their peers, loved ones, universities, and student housing providers. It categorizes students into three general groups based on their assessment of mental wellness:

  • Thriving Students (39%) – 68% of Thriving Students say their mental health was good in the past month. They rate their current life as 7 out of 10 or higher and their outlook on their future life as 8 out of 10 or higher. They are living their best lives and see the future as even brighter, and they are far more likely to report feeling general positive emotions compared to the overall college student population.
  • Maintaining Students (13%) – 20% say their mental health was good in the last month. Rating their current life between 5 to 6 out of 10 and their future outlook between 5 and 7 out of 10, this group is uncertain and thinks their current life could be better. They may not see a path to thriving in the future or are not sure how to improve their reality.
  • Struggling Students (3%) – 5% of this small population of students say their mental health was good over the past month, and they rate their current life at 4 out of 10 or below and their outlook on their future life as 4 out of 10 or below. They are in a rough place, don’t have a very good opinion about the current state of their life, and aren’t optimistic that this is going to change.

Among the Overall Respondent/Student Population, 44% of college students don’t fall into the three classifications above because they answered the current and future questions on the extremes; for example, a current life rating of 2 out of 10 and a future life rating of 9 out of 10.

Key highlights of the report include:

  • Most students view their mental health as an important part of their wellbeing and are open to talking about mental wellness.
  • Listening to music, socializing, and watching TV/movies are the top ways students support their mental health.
  • Hosting more social gatherings, trivia nights, game nights, or meetups are ways to help students’ wellbeing.
  • 40% of students are considered to be Thriving and they are more social and far more likely to report that their mental health has been good in the past month (68%) compared to Maintaining (20%) and Struggling (5%) students.
  • 40% of students describe their mental health as “poor” or “very poor,” 20% describe it as “neutral” and a significant percentage of students agree that they need mental health treatment currently.
  • While there are a lot of emotions good and bad swirling around on college campuses, stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed rank highest among respondents.

“It is encouraging to see that a large subset of college students is thriving even amid the high levels of stress and anxiety and that there are effective de-stressors they rely on like listening to music and socializing,” said Dr. Sonia Krishna, a board-certified physician specializing in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry and Hi, How Are You Project board member. “Maintaining and Struggling students are far less likely to list socializing with friends or family as something they do often. This finding presents an opportunity for students and their networks to tap into social support systems because we know there is a positive link between strong social connections and mental wellness.”

How Students are Feeling

When students were asked how often they feel various emotions the Overall Student Population say they feel “all of the time” or “often”:

  • Stressed Out (70%),
  • Anxious/Worried (63%),
  • Overwhelmed (61%), and
  • Having Trouble Concentrating (52%).

When asked how much students “laughed and smiled a lot” the day before they were surveyed, 80% of Thriving students agree they laughed and smiled a lot, while only 62% of the Overall Student Respondents/Population felt the same.

When asked “I do not need mental health treatment or help right now,” only 37% of the overall student population agree, with 43% disagreeing. When looking at this by categories:

  • Struggling students are the most likely to disagree at 68%,
  • 51% of Maintaining students disagree, and
  • 28% disagree.

Opening Up About Mental Wellbeing

Ninety-two percent of respondents view their mental health as an important component of their overall health and wellbeing.

While 67% of students agree that they feel comfortable talking about mental health with those closest to them, this comfort level varies drastically among the Index groups:

  • 75% of Thriving students are twenty percentage points more likely than Maintaining students (58%) to agree that they feel comfortable discussing mental health with those closest to them and just over a third of Struggling students (37%) feel the same way.
  • Negative stigma about discussing mental health was highly correlated with poor mental health as students with poor mental health are most likely to fear they will be judged if they talk about mental health (59% vs. 35% of students with good mental health).

Music and Socializing Support Mental Wellbeing

  • To help with mental wellbeing, music is by far the most popular activity students turn to, topping other activities by fifteen percentage points. Socializing comes second, followed by watching TV or movies, then spending time outside.
  • The data reveals that socializing supports wellbeing as Thriving students are far more likely to socialize or talk with friends and family to support their health than Maintaining or Struggling students. They have strong support networks and feel less stigma talking about mental health. Struggling students are most likely to fear they will be judged if they talk about mental health.
  • Thriving students are also more likely to feel connected to their residential community. Students that reported feeling very connected to their residential community are the most likely to laugh and smile a lot (76%), feel comfortable talking about their mental health (77%), and feel that they have access to mental health resources (74%).

Gender Differences

  • The data shows that females are more optimistic about their futures. However, they are also more likely, along with those who identify as non-binary or prefer to self-describe, to report lower feelings about life currently.
  • This outlook on current life left more males (42%) in the Thriving group than females (39%) and those who identify as non-binary or prefer to self-describe (23%).

The Coalition also collaborated with The Jed Foundation (JED), a leading national nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults, on this project. “The Jed Foundation (JED) applauds the authors of the Thriving College Students Index Report for raising awareness on youth mental health and highlighting the important role that students—and all campus community members—can play in creating stronger cultures of caring,” said John MacPhee, CEO, The Jed Foundation.

Uniting as an industry and working with a network of mental wellness advocates, the Hi, How Are You Project and the Coalition will use this data to create programs for colleges student housing residents that prioritize mental wellness, including ways to help its residents effectively stay engaged and ask questions, starting with ‘Hi, how are you?’”

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About the Survey: Respondents in the U.S. and Canada remained anonymous, answering questions, in their choice of English, French or Spanish, about their struggles with mental health and personal sense of wellbeing across the academic, social, and personal spheres. The survey will be conducted annually to compare results over multiple years and to have consistent data on the ever-changing state of mental health among university students.

About the College Student Mental Wellness Advocacy Coalition: Founded in 2022, the Coalition envisions a world where all young adults thrive thanks to the support of their residential communities that are dedicated to promoting and advocating for mental wellness to facilitate personal fulfillment and academic success. Composed of 24 college student residential housing companies across the U.S., the Coalition is committed to better understanding residents, encouraging open dialogues, and raising public awareness about the importance of mental wellness and its impact on students as they work to realize their full potential along their college journey and beyond. http://www.thrivingcollegestudents.org

About the Hi, How Are You Project: The Hi, How Are You Project (HHAYP) is an Austin, TX-based 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission to remove the stigma around mental health, one conversation at a time. The organization aims to educate people worldwide about the importance of mental health and wellbeing while promoting a culture of inclusion. http://www.hihowareyou.org

About The Jed Foundation: JED is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. We’re partnering with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. We’re equipping teens and young adults with the skills and knowledge to help themselves and each other. We’re encouraging community awareness, understanding, and action for young adult mental health. Connect with JED: Email | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn

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