Survey by digital platform shows college kids worry about mental health, finances

By Susan Gonsalves
April 2nd, 2023
Seli Fakorzi, MC, is director of mental health operations at TimelyMD.
Seli Fakorzi, MC, is director of mental health operations at TimelyMD.

At the start of the spring semester, a nationwide survey of 1,200 college students cited their own mental health challenges as the greatest cause of stress.

The survey was conducted by TimelyMD, a leading virtual health and wellbeing provider in higher education. A record 500,000 students used the platform during the last semester.

“The survey results and our own data make clear that the majority of college students are experiencing mental health issues of one kind or another,” said Bob Booth, MD, chief care officer at TimelyMD in a written statement.

Four out of five (80 percent) students declared a mental health crisis on campus. Other key findings include 71 percent of students experiencing mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and/or depression, and 78 percent reporting the same or high levels of severity as this time last year.

In addition, respondents named the following top five stressors: their own mental health (50 percent); personal finances (39 percent); academics (37 percent); mass shootings (35 percent); and inflation/rising prices (35 percent).

“Some good news is that we are seeing a positive trend of Gen Z students talking more openly about their mental health. Additionally, more students are open to seeking support, though how they choose to do that varies.” -- Seli Fakorzi, MC, director of mental health operations, TimelyMD

Additional stressors include: physical health (30 percent), COVID-19 (29 percent), political instability (22 percent), being away from friends/family (22 percent) and social inequity (15 percent).

Other findings indicated that 70 percent of students believe their college or university provides sufficient mental health resources with half of those students having used either teletherapy services or a mental health app.

Three out of four (75 percent) of the students who used teletherapy or a virtual app for support said those services helped their mental health.

Of TimelyMD, Booth said, “We provide high-quality, immediate access to care – in five minutes or less for on-demand services – so students feel empowered to tap into whatever resources they need to feel seen, supported, and successful in school and in life.”

The survey results demonstrate higher disparities among student groups .For example, 93 percent of transgender students, 91 percent of non-binary students, and 83 percent of Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander Native students report experiencing mental health issues, compared to 71 percent in other populations.

Also, American Indian (84 percent), transgender (79 percent), non-binary (73 percent) and LGBTQIA+ (68 percent) students said they are experiencing higher levels of emotional distress, stress and/or anxiety in the last year because of a lack of basic needs.

That compares to 59 percent of students overall reporting those issues.

According to Seli Fakorzi, MC, director of mental health operations at TimelyMD, “Some good news is that we are seeing a positive trend of Gen Z students talking more openly about their mental health. Additionally, more students are open to seeking support, though how they choose to do that varies,” she said.

Other results demonstrate that college students seek help from peers before professionals with 63 percent of students reporting this trend. Half of the students using the platform’s “peer community,” have not sought help with a provider.

According to the survey, family support appears strong. Eighty-four percent of respondents noted their families are in favor of them receiving professional mental health help while 66 percent of students said their families are aware of their mental health issues.

Despite more awareness and lessening stigma about mental health, 53 percent of students reportedly are still “on the fence,” about seeking professional help for their mental health problems.

Fakorzi said there are any number of reasons why students may be hesitant to seek professional support. “Some may feel overwhelmed about where to start, others may not feel their mental health issues warrant a professional’s help,” she said.

She added whatever the reason is for hesitation, it highlights the importance of having a range of resources available so that students have “immediate access, whenever and wherever they are.”

Broken down further, 44 percent of Hispanic/Latino and 44 percent of Middle Eastern students sought professional help last year. Students in other communities, however, have been more willing to take this step as follows: Transgender (79 percent), American Indian (70 percent), non-binary (64 percent) and LGBTQIA+ (61 percent) .

Because Gen Z is seeing never-before-seen levels of suicidal thoughts, the way healthcare is delivered to them must evolve, according to Fakorzi, noting many schools have turned to virtual health.

But providing health apps and access to providers over Zoom is not enough to “move the needle on their health and wellbeing,” she said.

The extension of in-person services through virtual health platforms as well as the adoption of a hybrid model of care are critical to fill in the gaps, Fakorzi added.

Forty percent of mental health visits occur after hours and on weekends, Fakorzi noted, further underscoring the need for 24/7 access.

TimelyCare serves more than 1.5 million students at 250 campuses, including 11 of the top 25 national universities and one in 10 community colleges

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