Student mental health has been of much interest to researchers and politicians alike during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extent to which students have been affected by the lockdowns and subsequent breakdown of their academic routine is subject to various studies. But, a recent survey conducted by Boston University School of Public Health in partnership with the Mary Christie Foundation and the Healthy Minds Network paints a particularly dark picture.
According to the results of their survey, nearly 9 in 10 professors said their students’ mental health has worsened over the past year because of the pandemic. It included responses from 1,685 faculty members at 12 colleges and universities in 10 states across the United States. And, the professors come from colleges with student enrolment ranging from 2,000 to 20,000 .
The trend isn’t surprising, as COVID-19 has disrupted higher education which has led to mass deferments and uncertainty among students, but the volume of professors who say students are struggling provides insight into just how the pandemic has affected young people and led to a deterioration of their well-being.
On a brighter note, the survey did find that almost 80% of the faculty members said they have had one-on-one phone, video, or email exchanges with students about their mental health in the past year. But the outreach isn’t uniform across all genders, as 85% of female faculty and 84% of transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming faculty said they spoke with students, whereas only 71% of male faculty did the same.
Consequently, 21% of faculty members said supporting students’ mental health took a toll on their own well-being.
“We are not, by and large, trained mental health professionals,” Sarah Lipson, a public health professor at Boston University who led the survey, said. “But I think that these data indicate that there’s a need for some additional training and resources that can allow faculty to better support students.”
This is important, as just over 50% of the faculty members said they were familiar with how to recognize student emotional or mental stress. While an even smaller number knew how to recognize substance abuse such alcohol or drug abuse/misuse among the students.