2nd Annual Student Behavioral Health Report reveals challenges faced by college-age students

A new report finds that behavioral health concerns skyrocket for students in college compared to high school. Learn what this means for employers.

The second annual UnitedHealthcare Student Behavioral Health Report, commissioned by UnitedHealthcare and conducted by YouGov,1 revealed important trends in the experiences, actions and influencing factors for students’ mental or behavioral health across high school and college years. These findings underscore how important it is that parents have the behavioral health support they need to care for their children.

One of the most striking findings in the report was that self-reported concerns increased dramatically among college students — jumping by nearly 50% versus high school students for serious concerns such as depression, anxiety and stress, and suicidal ideation and intent.2

What’s more, the report showed that parents may not always realize what their college-age students are going through. When it comes to mental or behavioral health challenges, the report revealed that parents of high school students may be more attuned to students’ reality than parents of college students. 

In the report, high school and college students were surveyed about their own or a classmate’s/friend’s mental health, while parents were surveyed about their perspectives on their high school and college-age students’ mental health. Here’s what the report unveiled:2

  Self-reporting high school students Perspectives of high school parents Self-reporting college students Perspectives of college parents
Depression 20% 15% 41% 18%
Anxiety 35% 34% 55% 35%
Suicidal ideation and intent 9% 6% 13% 4%

“For families, communities and educators, youth mental and behavioral health remains an urgent priority, and understanding the gaps between parent perceptions and student experiences, especially in the transition from high school to college, is essential in addressing these challenges successfully.”

— Dr. Donald Tavakoli, National Medical Director, Behavioral Health, UnitedHealthcare

What does this mean for employers?

With at least one parent being employed in nearly 92% of families with children,3 employers have a sizeable portion of their workforce who is concerned about the mental health of their children, including high school and college-age students.

In fact, due to a child’s mental health, at least once a month:4

  • 75% of parents missed a full or partial day of work
  • 72% of parents had work interrupted
  • 58% of parents felt like the quality of their work was negatively affected
  • 50% felt unprepared in a meeting
  • 50% fell behind on their workload

Employers can help support their employees by recognizing the concerns and challenges they may be facing as it relates to their children and providing them with the resources they need.

That includes providing employees with access to behavioral health benefits across a continuum of severity levels. For instance, virtual behavioral health coaching may be a great option for stress management or for some types of anxiety, while in-person visits with a clinician may be most appropriate for issues like depression or suicide ideation.  

Employers may also want to build in regular communications to help ensure their employees are aware of and actively utilize the behavioral health benefits that are made available to them and their high school and college-age kids.

In fact, the report showed that 1 out of 3 students said their reason for not seeking out help was that they didn’t know where to find mental or behavioral health resources.2 And about 25% of college students said their top reason was that it was too expensive,2 even though many employee assistance programs (EAP) plans and student health insurance plans offer free virtual visits.

Employers can also work to reduce the stigma that still exists around mental health issues by building a workplace culture that acknowledges and regularly discusses mental health issues and encourages parents to have similar conversations at home.

“The Student Behavioral Health Report shows that parents and trusted adults can make a meaningful impact on students’ experiences, with more frequent discussions about their mental and behavioral health correlating with higher rates of feeling supported and taking positive action,” Tavakoli says.

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