Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Parents May Underestimate Frequency of Mental Health Concerns Among College Students

College students are far more likely to report having experienced an eating disorder, depression, or suicidal ideation compared with what parents report knowing about their children’s experiences with mental illness, according to a UnitedHealthcare report published today.

“It may not be surprising that some students and parents have different perceptions of the college experience, but this report demonstrates the need to create environments for ongoing meaningful conversations with these emerging adults,” said Donald Tavakoli, M.D., national medical director for behavioral health with UnitedHealthcare, in a news release.

The 2022 College Student Behavioral Health Report was conducted by YouGov, an international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm. YouGov surveyed 1,034 participants, 506 of whom were current college students, and 528 of whom were the parents of college students. The participants completed online surveys from August 8 to 14, 2022. Most of the students surveyed (85%) reported being enrolled in a health insurance plan.

The survey revealed significant gaps in parents’ understanding of their children’s mental health concerns. For every 10 students who reported seeking help for themselves or a friend in the last year, only eight parents reported they knew their child sought help. The disconnects between students’ experiences and parents’ perception of their child’s mental health include the following:

  • 41% of students reported experiencing depression, compared with 22% of parents reporting their child experienced depression.
  • 13% of students reported experiencing suicidal ideation or intent, compared with 4% of parents reporting their child experienced suicidal ideation or intent.
  • 11% of students reported experiencing an eating disorder, compared with 5% of parents reporting their child experienced an eating disorder.
  • 6% of students reported experiencing a substance use disorder (SUD), compared with 4% of parents reporting their child experienced an SUD.

Further, students who did not seek help for their mental health concerns, but said they needed help, reported the following reasons:

  • 40% said help was too expensive.
  • 28% said it took too long to get an appointment.
  • 25% said they did not know where to find mental health resources.
  • 20% said they were concerned about their parents finding out.
  • 14% said they were concerned about friends or classmates finding out.

Students who reported experiencing a mental health concern during the past year were twice as likely as those who did not to express doubts about graduating on time. Among those who experienced an SUD, 94% expressed doubts about graduating on time, and 88% of those who experienced suicidal ideation or intent expressed such doubts.

“We need to work with students to educate them on their options for mental and behavioral support,” Tavakoli said in the release. “Colleges, parents, health care providers, and health plans all can play a role in supporting navigation to appropriate care.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “College Students Struggle Amid Pandemic’s Uncertainty.”

(Image: iStock/seb_ra)

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