Table of Contents
The American College Health Association (ACHA) conducts the National College Health Assessment survey annually to help universities collect data about college students and overall student health. The following topics represent survey results regarding common health habits, behaviors and perceptions reported by college students. Consider this your quick reference list from TimelyMD on the most common health concerns, behaviors and perceptions facing your student body.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression
According to a survey conducted by TimelyMD, 82% of college students say they continue to experience increased emotional distress and anxiety as a result of COVID-19. The top five stressors cited in the survey by students were:
- Impact on the quality of their education
- Not knowing what life may look like once a new normal is established
- Isolation from friends and family
- Missing a vibrant campus life
- Struggles with remote learning
As reported by the New York Times, it’s been a difficult year for college students, who had their campuses shut down, their education drastically changed, and were last in line for vaccines. Winter has made the situation worse, and health professionals have seen more severe symptoms of anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and addictions manifesting in young people. This is why mental health services and strategies for self-care are critically needed for college students.
Cold, Flu and Sore Throat
Most college students are living on their own for the first time, exposing them to new health risks like cold, flu and upper respiratory issues like sore throat. Such risks come from living in close quarters with other students, the stress of being away from home, the pressure of academic life, and the use of drugs and alcohol.
On average, college students who get the flu experience illness of eight days or more. Not being able to attend class for that long impacts academic performance. In fact, a study of 4,919 college students at the University of Minnesota over a six-month period found 83% contracted an upper respiratory infection or cold and 36.7% contracted influenza-like illnesses. These illnesses caused 6,023 bed-days, 4,263 missed school days, 3,175 missed work days and 45,219 days of illness. Of the cohort, 27.8% did poorly on a test and 46.3% did poorly on a class assignment.
Meningitis is most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It may also be caused by a fungal infection, a reaction to certain medications or medical treatments, an inflammatory disease such as lupus, some types of cancer, or a traumatic injury to the head or spine. Symptoms often resemble those of the flu and may include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and confusion.
College freshmen, especially those who live in dormitories, are at a slightly increased risk for bacterial meningitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all first-year students living in residence halls receive the meningococcal vaccine.
Eating disorders are prevalent during the college years. Most eating disorders begin among young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. With many college students living on their own for the first time, it can be difficult for them to recognize the risk factors and warning signs.
The National Eating Disorders Association website offers resources like a support hotline for a variety of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
By some estimates, between 2% and 8% of college students have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Research has found that students with ADHD have a harder time graduating and have a lower grade-point average — about half a grade lower — than their peers who do not suffer from the disorder. To be successful, it’s important that students managing ADHD understand how to advocate for themselves, take advantage of accommodations that are available on campus, and have a plan for how to make it to graduation.
College campuses are known for spreading illnesses and contagious diseases. There are a variety of causes at play — college students often deal with high stress, lack of sleep, poor diets and may not be accustomed to taking care of their physical health. Common illnesses include allergies, stomach flu, influenza, mono, athlete’s foot, human papillomavirus (HPV), pink eye, etc.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
College students have always represented a large portion of the population abusing drugs and alcohol. The Addiction Center reports that 80% of U.S. college students have abused alcohol. An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested every year for alcohol-related violations, such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.
Additionally, a national survey found that 33% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking was defined in the survey as consuming five drinks or more on one occasion for males and four drinks or more for females. This type of alcohol use can pose serious health and safety risks, including car accidents, drunk-driving arrests, sexual assaults and other injuries. Frequent binge drinking can cause long-term harm to physical health, like damage to the liver and other organs.
Thirty-seven percent of college students use illicit drugs on a regular basis (e.g. opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, barbiturates). The exposure to a variety of people in college, stressors of adjusting to new environments, participating in fraternity and sororities, and many other aspects of student life increase the risk of college drug use. This substance abuse can lead students to take high-risk actions like driving under the influence of an illicit substance or getting involved in criminal activity.
Lack of Sleep
Students experience new challenges when starting at university like leaving home, increased independence, changes in peer groups, new social situations, maintenance of academic responsibilities, increased access to alcohol or drugs, and living with a roommate. Research shows that 41% of students with roommates wake up at night due to the noises their cohabitants make. These challenges are all associated with sleep disturbances and lack of sleep. In fact, 60% of college students suffer from poor sleep quality and 27% are at a risk of at least one sleep disorder.
Balancing Work and Academics
For college students working through school, one disadvantage is the limitation on time — specifically time for study, sleep, physical activity and healthy eating habits. Research shows that working 35 hours or more per week while in college has negative effects — higher risk of dropping out, delayed graduation rates and poor academic performance. Full-time workers have less time for academic studies and school activities and often attend class less time per week.
In a nationwide survey published by George Mason University, over 50% of women and 44% of men reported frequent or occasional conflict with roommates or housemates. The survey also found that almost 6% of undergraduates reported that roommate difficulties hindered their academic performance (i.e., received a lower grade on an exam, received an incomplete or dropped a course). For students who may not be used to living in such close proximity, the transition to living on campus with a roommate can be difficult.
Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence
A 2019 Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault and misconduct revealed a 13% non-consensual sexual conduct rate. Statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network also indicate that female college students between 18 and 24 remain three times more likely than the general population to experience sexual violence, and male college students between 18 and 24 are five times more likely to be a victim than non-students.
It’s likely that women who are sexually assaulted will face significant mental health problems that include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Men face similar mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks and eating disorders. The ACHA has put together a list of resources on campus and sexual violence.
While sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) affect individuals of all ages, STDs take a particularly heavy toll on young people. The CDC estimates that youth ages 15 to 24 make up just over one quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year.
Mumps, once a ubiquitous childhood disease, was nearly eliminated in the United States after the launch of a vaccine in 1967. But the disease is making a comeback in young adults. Hundreds of outbreaks have occurred across college campuses since the early 2000s. The CDC advises a third dose of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine for people at high risk, such as college students.
Mental Health Issues and Suicidal Thoughts
Mental health is a critical concern impacting college student well-being, learning and success. Data from the 2019–2020 report from the Healthy Minds Study shows that 37% of college students surveyed had a mental health diagnosis, and 30% of college students accessed mental health therapy or counseling in the last year.
To compound the issue, stigma is still high: 47% of students agreed with the statement that most people would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment. Colleges across the country report increased mental health issues on campus, as well as increased severity of concerns, emphasizing the importance of effective, evidence-informed strategies that serve a diverse student population.
The CDC recently released the results of a survey that found 63% of 18-to-24-year olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. The organization also said that 25% of this college age group had increased substance use to deal with that stress, and 25% noted serious suicidal thoughts. In response to these mental health problems, it’s important to know how to help students who may be exhibiting warning signs of suicide, as well as proactive steps to take toward suicide prevention and preventing self-harm. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides resources for managing a mental health condition in college.
While these student health issues, behaviors and perceptions can be seen on every college campus, TimelyMD recognizes that every student population is different. So, however you choose to address these health care issues, TimelyMD’s programs offer the flexibility to build a telehealth solution that’s best for your institution.
TimelyMD’s campus-wide solution provides students anytime, anywhere access to quality care and immediate treatment for a variety of physical health conditions and mental health problems. As a strategic higher education partner, TimelyMD serves as an extension of existing on-campus health services provided by health centers and counseling centers. With service options now including psychiatry and health coaching, schools can support students’ need for advanced mental health care and students wellness strategies.
If you’re ready to help your college students thrive, contact TimelyMD for more information.