Burnout, anxiety, depression rising in college students amid pandemic

By Zarrin Ahmed
College students in the U.S. have experienced still rising levels of anxiety, depression and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ohio State University researchers. Photo by Ohio State University<br>
College students in the U.S. have experienced still rising levels of anxiety, depression and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ohio State University researchers. Photo by Ohio State University

July 26 (UPI) -- Researchers at Ohio State University say that anxiety, depression and burnout are on the rise as its students prepare to return to campus this fall, according to survey results published Monday.

After more than a year of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic -- which for college students has included the cancellation of classes, at the very least -- the researchers found that, even as normalcy starts to return, students have leaned on unhealthy coping mechanisms in the meantime.


Taking a pool of 1,072 randomly selected participants, the university's Office of the Chief Wellness Officer conducted surveys in August 2020 and April 2021.

They found that there was an increase of anxiety among those surveyed by 3.6%, an increase in depression by 4.2% and an increase in burnout by 31%.

RELATED Study: Young adults in U.S. overeating during pandemic lockdowns

Coping mechanisms like eating more unhealthy food and use of alcohol, vaping and other substances rose while physical activity dropped.


There was, however, also a 9% increase in the number of students seeing a mental health counselor, the researchers said.

"Two-thirds of students who are no longer in college are not in college due to a mental health issue," Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State, said in a press release.

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"Mental health promotion and access to services and evidence-based programs are going to be more important than ever," Melnyk said.

Universities in March 2020 pushed colleges students to leave campus and moved to online distance learning as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country.

At the time, researchers noted spikes in self-reported anxiety and depression, as shown in one New Hampshire study.

RELATED Anxiety, depression spiked among college students early in pandemic

As the Fall 2020 academic semester approached, universities and colleges crafted mitigation plans -- including reducing the number of students on campus and employing mixed-learning for coursework, universal masking and social distancing, testing students regularly and requiring quarantines when appropriate -- students returned to school.

Even with these careful actions, there were COVID-19 outbreaks at universities and in the communities surrounding them.

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration giving emergency use authorizations to three COVID-19 vaccines last December, the number of cases and deaths in the United States has gone down -- though the number of people in the country being vaccinated has slowed considerably in recent weeks.


Ohio State said earlier this month it hopes have 65% of its students, faculty and staff vaccinated by the start of the Fall semester. The school is offering contests for vaccination by Aug. 2, including gift cards and football tickets.

Ohio State University and Ohio State Wexner Medical Center are expanding their resources by creating a new mental health commission focused helping students as they return to school amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the work, the commission created a mental health checklist they intend to use to help students and create a "caring and wellness culture" at the university.

The list includes establishing health habits, building resiliency and coping skills, finding local mental health support, growing and maintaining support systems, and not waiting to get help.

Melnyk said the checklist will be part of their classes rather than "one more thing to do."

"We would not send divers into a deep ocean without an oxygen tank. How can we send our students throughout life without giving them the resiliency, cognitive-behavioral skills and coping mechanisms that we know are protective against mental health disorders and chronic disease?" said Melnyk, who is also vice president for health promotion in the college.


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