By Will Kubzansky
“Members of the class of 2023 and 2024--current sophomores and juniors, who were mostly seniors in high school or in their second semester of college when the pandemic began--drove negative and neutral sentiment surrounding mental health.”
Content warning: suicide/mental health
Making sweeping statements about mental health in the face of the pandemic is a challenge, according to Dr. Lauren Weinstock, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown. Data are incomplete and still being collected, she said--though she also noted that there are “some indicators that young adults and teenagers in particular have had a more difficult time with their mental health during the pandemic.” A CDC survey last June, for instance, noted that 62.9 percent of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.
At Brown, just over 1 in 5 students (20.28 percent) rated their mental health as “poor” or “very poor,” while roughly 1 in 3 rated their mental health as “good” (36.48 percent) or “okay” (32.79 percent). Summed together, 53.08 percent of students rate their mental health as below “good.”
Members of the class of 2023 and 2024--current sophomores and juniors, who were mostly seniors in high school or in their second semester of college when the pandemic began--drove negative and neutral sentiment surrounding mental health: Close to 60 percent of the junior and sophomore classes rated their mental health as “very poor,” “poor,” or “okay” (57.6 and 61.2 percent, respectively), while less than half of first-years and seniors said the same (49.2 and 44.6 percent, respectively).
“When people experience negative stress, you can see transient effects on mental health,” Weinstock said. “Some of the stresses of the pandemic relate to social isolation. We know from data that social isolation can trigger or be associated with increased sadness and depression.”
Still, some students--led by first-years--said their mental health is very good (12.88 percent) as opposed to juniors and seniors (8.62 and 9.82 percent, respectively). The class of 2024 had the smallest proportion that rates their mental health as very good (5.60 percent). Sophomores began their college careers belatedly in January 2021, then completing three semesters in a row without a substantial break.
Members of the class of 2022 were most likely to say their mental health was “good” (43.75 percent). The classes of 2024 and 2025 followed behind, with 36.80 and 36.36 percent rating their mental health as good.
Social sciences and humanities concentrators were more likely to rate their mental health as poor (19.80 and 18.75 percent) than STEM concentrators (14.86 percent); STEM concentrators were more likely to rate their mental health as “good” and “very good” (42.17 and 10.84 percent) than any other concentration.
A sophomore who took the poll said they thought Brown’s non-competitive nature helped their mental health.
“I went to a high school which was really cutthroat,” they said. “Feeling like everyone’s on your team is a big weight off of me.”
Just over one in two Brown students (52.87 percent) also thought that their professors had taken their mental health into account this semester. Members of the class of 2022 were most likely to express that opinion, with 61.61% of seniors believing their professors had considered mental health. Between roughly 49 and 51 percent of other classes said the same.
Of different concentrators, STEM students were most likely to say their professors had considered their mental health (56.22 percent).
“I’ve had really wonderful professors, but I don’t think that’s the norm,” the same sophomore said.
“I definitely abuse their generosity,” another member of the class of 2024 said. “The bomb threat we had, I was like, ‘I’m so anxious, I can’t come to class.’ And they’re like, ‘okay.’”
They added that they sometimes feigned worry about COVID-19 to skip class.
“The professors are being really generous,” they noted, “which is great.”
In the coming months and year ahead, a clearer picture regarding mental health among young adults and teenagers should emerge, Weinstock said, as data collected over the last year are released.
Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its December 2021 poll from December 2-3, collecting 488 total responses from undergraduate students. The margin of error is 4.44 percent with 95 percent confidence.