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A new study found more college students are reporting higher levels of anxiety and burnout amid the ongoign pandemic. Drazen Zigic/Getty Images
  • A new study found that college students are increasingly reporting signs of anxiety and burnout amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Additionally, the students who participated in the survey were more likely to report increased risk of alcohol and tobacco use and an increase in unhealthy eating habits.
  • Experts say as students transition back to on campus learning, they may face additional stressors.

College students are experiencing rising rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, and “unhealthy coping mechanisms,” like vaping and tobacco use, according to a new survey conducted by The Ohio State University’s Office of the Chief Wellness Officer.

According to Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State, who led the survey, this is the second time the survey has been conducted in less than a year, and students’ mental health has significantly declined.

Student burnout rose drastically from August 2020 to April 2021 according to the experts.

“In August 2020, the first time we did the survey, student burnout was at 40%. In April 2021, it was 71%,” said Melnyk in a statement. “The survey really brought students’ continued mental health struggles to light, and it is crucial that we arm students with the resilience, cognitive-behavioral skills and coping skills that we know are protective against mental health disorders.”

During this timeline students who screened positive for anxiety rose from 39 to 43 percent. Those who screened positive for depression rose from 24 percent to 28 percent.

Additionally, they found more students reported drinking, smoking, and eating unhealthy food to cope with the stress.

More healthy ways of handling stress, including increased physical activity, also dropped from 35 percent to 28 percent.

According to Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, a psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and head of research at The Mental Health Coalition, “change is difficult, even positive change.”

She told Healthline that as schools, work, and life continue to relax restrictions, it can bring many difficult feelings, including stress, depression, and anxiety. ​

“Adjusting to the reopening also takes a great deal of energy, meaning that it is exhausting,” said Torres-Mackie. “Under any circumstances, experiencing a major life change like going to college is stressful, and experiencing it as the world finds its footing again is especially challenging.”

She pointed out this is why, this year, it’s particularly important for college students to take care of their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

The Ohio State University and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center have announced they’re using the survey findings to expand student resources and integrate them into both the curriculum and campus life.

Melnyk and Melissa Shivers, PhD, senior vice president of the Office of Student Life at Ohio State, are co-chairing a new mental health commission intended to promote and protect the mental health and well-being of students as they return to campus.

This includes the creation of a new “Five to Thrive” mental health checklist for all college students to use as they prepare for the fall semester:

1. Establish health habits that work for you: Schedule stress reduction, physical activity, and healthy eating like you schedule classes and homework time.

2. Build resiliency and coping skills: Practice deep breathing, mindfulness, gratitude, and flipping negative thoughts with positive ones.

3. Find local mental health support: Explore your school’s resources and locate/connect with counseling services, a primary care provider, and pharmacy.

4. Grow and maintain support systems: Get involved in campus life, meet new people, and connect with positive people in your life.

5. Don’t wait to get help: Seek professional help immediately if your symptoms or emotions are affecting concentration or functioning.

Torres-Mackie emphasized that the results of this study make sense, ‘since we know that anxiety thrives in anticipation.’

‘For example, anxiety is likely to be higher as students are gearing up to go back to school rather than actually back at school,’ she explained.

According to Torres-Mackie, the change in students’ mental state is expected after living through the immense changes brought on by the pandemic.

“Also, trauma is processed after the fact,” she said. “It makes sense that [students’] mood and well-being are negatively impacted now.”

“We have excellent evidence that being vaccinated for COVID-19 with any of the three currently available vaccines here in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J — reduces the likelihood of getting very sick from COVID,” said Dr. Barbara Keber, chair of family medicine at Glen Cove Hospital in Long Island, New York.

She added that although there are some “breakthrough” cases of COVID in vaccinated people, those individuals do not get as sick or end up in the hospital if they do get the disease.

“This knowledge should help those who are anxious about getting sick with COVID have reduced anxiety about it,” she said. “So getting your ‘shot’ gives you a great shot to get through the school year staying healthy and worrying less.”

Keber understands that some students cannot, or won’t, accept vaccination. She said remote learning options might be the best approach in these cases.

“Barring them should be an option for each university to have as they look to protect all students, faculty, and staff,” she said. “Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons should have a choice as to whether they wish to attend in person or virtually.

Torres-Mackie said communication is key to handling student anxiety about the coming school year.

“Parents can help college students cope with stressors associated with the new school year by opening up conversations with their kids about well-being during this time,” she explained.

Torres-Mackie pointed out that kids typically expect that parents won’t be as comfortable talking about mental health as they are, and “an invitation from a parent is therefore important.”

She said that even if your child turns down the offer, the message is still sent that you view their well-being as important, and that you’re available to offer support if they would like it.

“Just knowing that your parent is there for your emotional needs can mean a lot,” she added.

A new survey from The Ohio State University finds that college students are experiencing increased rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Experts say that as schools, public, and workplaces continue to relax restrictions, it can bring up a lot of difficult feelings, including stress, depression, and anxiety. This makes it particularly important for college students to take care of their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

They also say that getting vaccinated can go a long way to relieve pandemic-related anxiety in students returning to college this fall.