Every culture uses its next generation as a sign of hope. After all, they are, literally, the future. We want to hand off a better world to them and give them the tools to, hopefully, continue making the world a better place. That’s why so many parents sacrifice to send their kids to college — to prepare them to take on the world, find out who they are and realize their talents. But one of the more underreported stories about our next generation is that what we’re handing off to them is in fact a growing mental health crisis. That’s why I’m excited to announce a special new section on Thrive Global called “Thrive Global On Campus,” devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among our college and university students from all angles.
Certainly the mental health crisis is happening at all levels and around the globe. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting over 300 million people. In the U.S., according to the CDC, suicide rates have gone up 25 percent since 1999. The loneliness epidemic is deepening, and the number of deaths from opioids continues to skyrocket. And burnout is increasingly the dominant topic in our conversation about work. That’s the world our students have grown up in, and that’s the world they’re preparing to take their place in when they leave campus.
And the numbers on how the crisis is affecting them are alarming.
• According to a survey last year, two-thirds of student affairs administrators consider mental health to be their top priority.
• In its most recent annual report, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that anxiety and depression were the top two reasons why students sought help at counseling centers. And between 2009 and 2015, the number of students asking for counseling went up by almost 30 percent.
• According to the National College Health Assessment, 65.7 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed in the last 30 days, 21.3 percent said they’d felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function,” and 13.4 percent had seriously contemplated suicide.”
The good news is that this generation is also coming forward to talk about the problem, seek out solutions and begin to end the stigma around mental health so more people will continue to come forward. And while we’re focusing on eliminating that stigma, let’s also move upstream. In the U.S., three-quarters of all health care spending goes toward the treatment of chronic conditions related to stress that could be managed and prevented. So instead of putting all our resources on downstream harm reduction, let’s focus on behaviors and triggers that help fuel depression and anxiety. This especially includes sleep deprivation and our growing addiction to social media, screens and everything on our phones. This is a good description of life as a college student, and yet study after study has shown that heavy use of phones and social media is connected to anxiety and depression.
Shining a light on solutions will also be a big part of “Thrive Global on Campus.” At Thrive Global, we break them down into Microsteps – small science-backed changes we can incorporate into our daily lives that can have a positive and long-lasting effect on our physical and mental well-being. This includes easy ways to improve sleep, eat better and exercise more, which can all impact mental health.
In “Thrive Global On Campus,” you’ll find personal stories from students about their own experiences, expert opinions from administrators, and deep reporting on what colleges are doing to tackle the problem.
Some of the pieces you can already read include:
And we want to hear from you. The only way we can begin to reverse this epidemic is by talking about it, bringing it into the open, and sharing our experiences — I’d love for you to contribute to Thrive and use the keyword tag “ThriveOnCampus” when submitting your stories. We welcome pieces on any subject related to student mental health and well-being, from experiencing depression on campus, to your relationship with technology, to maintaining mental well-being, to what is or isn’t being done on your campus about the mental health crisis — and any other trends you’re noticing or experiencing. Please add your voice to the conversation so that all of our students can truly Thrive on Campus.