What are the mental health effects of COVID-19 on young adults?

Researcher shares how we can support the mental health of college students during the coronavirus pandemic.

By Molly Gluck and Sari Cohen

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Photo by Makenna Entrikin on Unsplash

The mental health crisis on college campuses predates the coronavirus pandemic, and many of the contributing factors have been intensified and exacerbated by the isolating and unsettling “new normal” of daily life.

The traditional college years are an especially vulnerable time for students as it directly coincides with the age of onset for lifetime mental illnesses. Dr. Sarah Lipson, assistant professor in the Department of Health Law Policy at the Boston University School of Public Health, laser-focuses her efforts on this important issue. For almost ten years, she has been conducting research to understand and address the rising prevalence rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidality, and other mental health concerns on college campuses in order to better advocate for systemic policy changes.

She recently took to Reddit to share how to better support the mental health of college students and young adults during the pandemic. Whether you’re a young adult, college student, parent, professor, caretaker or policymaker, the top nine takeaways from her discussion offer resources and can help provide support during this time.

1. Now more than ever, we need to take a “public health approach” to address mental health.

Lipson highlights the importance of investing in prevention.

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2. Mental health conditions are the largest burden of disease among adolescents and young adults.

Lipson discusses the high rates of mental health conditions in young adults and the contributing factors.

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3. The role of higher education in mental health can be looked at as both a responsibility and an opportunity.

College is one of the only times in a person’s lifetime when a single setting encompasses the main aspects of their lives — which presents a unique opportunity for addressing mental health challenges.

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4. Our mental health education system has a long way to go — but the opportunity is enormous.

Lipson highlights why incorporating mental health education into college curriculums is especially important now more than ever.

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5. There is a strong connection between student mental health and academic performance.

Lipson makes the case for on-campus mental health resources.

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6. If you’re feeling guilty about a lack of productivity during the pandemic — you’re not alone.

Lipson assures us that it’s more challenging to do work under current circumstances and urges professors to be understanding and supportive of students.

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7. Adapting grading policies is an effective way for colleges and universities to minimize the stress students are facing.

In Lipson’s opinion, it’s completely unrealistic to expect students to be their most productive during this time.

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8. Research looking into COVID-19’s impact on young adult mental health is underway.

Lipson discusses her recent research shift to better understand students’ personal experiences, behaviors and beliefs during the pandemic. The data will soon be available here.

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9. Depression and anxiety rates have nearly doubled for college students in the past decade.

Lipson explains the increasing prevalence of mental health discussion.

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For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. Sarah Lipson at @DrSarahLipson and Boston University School of Public Health at @BUSPH on Twitter.

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Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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