Depression and anxiety among college students is a growing public health problem. And new research from the University of Georgia suggests the problem may be worse for students who aren’t the same race as most of their peers.
The new study found that students who were not the majority race at a predominantly white college reported significantly higher rates of depression than their white peers.
Students at the predominantly white institution all reported similar levels of anxiety, regardless of race, with more than three in every five students saying they experience mild to severe levels of anxiety.
At the historically Black college, students who weren’t Black experienced higher rates of anxiety and depression as well.
First-generation students more likely to suffer depression
More than 3,100 students participated in the study during the COVID-19 pandemic, answering questions about feelings of hopelessness, sleep issues and lack of energy, among other topics.
The researchers found that first-generation students were also significantly more likely to experience depression compared to students who weren’t the first to attend college in their families.
All first-generation students surveyed expressed that they had some level of depression, regardless of the institution. Most reported mild symptoms, but more than half at the predominantly white university said they had moderate to severe levels of depression.
Socializing, sense of belonging helps safeguard against mental illness
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted daily life for most Americans. College students were particularly hard hit.
Where they would normally be socializing and engaging in group activities, many were masked up and socially distanced, preventing some of that integral interaction that strengthens social bonds. The additional stressors likely led to increases in stress and anxiety, but the researchers suggest that not all groups were affected equally.
Female students, for example, were harder hit with depression and anxiety than their male counterparts, which reflects the larger social pattern of mental health problems hitting women more intensely.
But the researchers say investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion resources can help students feel more at home on campus, regardless of their race or first-generation status.
Published by the Journal of American College Health, the study was co-authored by Kathryn Chiang, Mitchell Chen Lee, Arial Treankler and Heather Padilla, of the University of Georgia. Additional co-authors include Drs. Emily Anne Vall at Resilient Georgia and Marion Ross Fedrick at the Albany State University.