Millennial and Gen Z Mental Health
A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that suicidal thinking, severe depression, and rates of self-injury among U.S. college students more than doubled over less than a decade. Looking at data from two large annual surveys of college undergraduates from 2007 to 2018, researchers Mary E. Duffy, Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., and Thomas E. Joiner, Ph.D. found a worsening of mental health indicators including depression overall, anxiety, anger, low flourishing, and suicidal planning and attempts, particularly in the second half of the study period. Another recent study, also co-authored by Twenge, reports that Gen Z (or iGen) outpaces all older generations in stress, with 9 in 10 Gen Zs between the ages of 18 and 21 reporting stress in the last month, compared to around 75 percent of their elders. Drawing from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adolescents and adults, researchers observed a steady rise in mood disorder and suicide-related outcomes between cohorts born from the early 1980s (Millennials) to the late 1990s (iGen). The study identifies the rise of electronic communication and digital media and decline in sleep duration as cultural trends that may explain the increase in mood disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors since the mid-2000s.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Engines of Social Mobility
According to a study from the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions, historically black colleges and universities have far smaller endowments and a far larger share of low-income students than predominantly white institutions, but raise students up the ladder of economic success at rates comparable to white colleges. A report on the study compared the trajectories of students who attended 50 HBCUs against those who went to mostly white institutions in the same regions. Two-thirds of HBCU students from low-income families, meaning those with household incomes of roughly $25,000 or less, ended up earning at least middle-class incomes by their early to mid-30s. Seventy percent of low-income students at mostly white colleges reached the middle class or higher by that age, according to the report, “Moving Upward and Onward: Income Mobility at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” This report comes on the heels of another recent report from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), “HBCUs Punching Above Their Weight,” that showed that while historically black colleges accounted for less than 10% of all four-year institutions across 21 states and territories in 2016, they enrolled and graduated about one-fourth of all black undergraduates.
Student Mental Health Becoming a Greater Priority for Presidents
A survey of more than 400 college presidents by the American Council on Education showed that students’ mental health has become more of a priority for colleges, which are allocating more resources to address it. More than 80 percent of the presidents surveyed say that mental health is more of a priority on campus than it was three years ago. One president wrote, “Mental health has become a major issue for retention and the general well-being of our students…This is in my top three areas of improvement for my college.” The presidents reported that anxiety and depression were the most common mental health issues they were aware of. Seventy-two percent of the presidents indicated they had allocated more funding to mental health initiatives than they did three years ago. According to the report, ninety percent of presidents agreed or strongly agreed that their staff is spending more time addressing these concerns than they did three years ago. And a majority of presidents also agreed or strongly agreed that faculty on their campus were spending more time addressing student mental health concerns than three years ago (82 percent). Notably, presidents were more likely to strongly agree (60 percent) that staff is spending more time addressing these issues than faculty (32 percent). One president reported, “The issues facing students have become more complex and time-consuming for faculty and staff to address. It also involves multiple staff (student services, counseling, security, external resources, safety, legal) to develop a comprehensive plan to address.”
Substance Use Trends
University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Panel study showed a 35-year high in marijuana use by college students. According to the study, which is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2018, 43 percent of full-time college students said they used marijuana at least once in the previous year, while one in four said they had used it in the last month. About 6 percent of students said they used marijuana daily, which was defined in the survey as having used it 20 or more times in the last 30 days. The study also found that the use of vaping products to vape marijuana as well as nicotine doubled between 2017 and 2018. Among the college students, roughly 11 percent reported that in 2018, they had vaped marijuana within 30 days of taking the survey. More than 15 percent of the students indicated they had vaped nicotine in the last month. The vaping trend is particularly concerning to researchers, because students often perceive vaping to be a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. The national survey also showed that binge drinking and other types of illicit drug use had decreased among college students. A recent analysis of CDC data by the non-profit Trust for America’s Health and Well Being shows that over the past decade, young adults have been more likely than any other age group to die from drugs, alcohol and suicide. According to the authors, the data underscore the despair Millennials face. Drug-related deaths among people 18 to 34 soared 108% between 2007 and 2017, while alcohol deaths were up 69% and suicides increased 35%. The increases for these three so-called “deaths of despair” combined were higher than for Baby Boomers and senior citizens. “There is a critical need for targeted programs that address Millennials’ health, well-being and economic opportunity,” says John Auerbach, CEO of the Trust for America’s Health and Massachusetts’ former health secretary.
Gender Minority Mental Health
A new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that transgender, gender-nonconforming, and gender-nonbinary college students suffer two to four times more than their cisgender classmates from mental-health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicidality. In Gender Minority Mental Health in the U.S.: Results of a National Survey on College Campuses, researchers Sarah Ketchen Lipson, Ph.D., Julia Raifman, Sc.D., Sara Abelson, M.P.H., and Sari L. Reisner, Sc.D., indicate that about 78 percent of gender-minority students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems compared to 45 percent of cisgender students. The study relied on data from the Healthy Minds Study. The article authors write that the findings indicate the importance of recognizing and addressing the mental health burdens and needs of gender minority students by providing services such as mental health screenings and gender-affirming services.