Whether we like it or not, the pandemic has forced students to adopt a new way of living. For many, life within the pandemic is challenging, difficult and tiring. Being isolated from friends, staring at computers for hours and waking up to a series of monotonous days has been affecting the mental health of UC Berkeley students.
On Sept. 10, UC Berkeley administration sent out a campuswide email stating its desire to check in with the students and hear about their experiences during the pandemic. A survey with questions related to mental health and mental health resources was included for students.
Of the 10,760 undergraduate and 4,484 graduate students who filled out the survey, 38% of undergraduates and 29% of graduates reported symptoms associated with major depressive disorder, or MDD — 35% of all survey respondents reported answers related to MDD.
41% percent of the undergraduates’ and 35% of the graduates’ responses were associated with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, and 39% of all survey respondents reported answers connected to GAD.
The survey reports that the responses are consistent with findings about students from a study conducted by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium, which surveyed 30,725 undergraduate students and 15,346 graduate and professional students between May and July of 2020 at nine public research universities. This study, which used the same methods as the survey sent out to UC Berkeley students, found the prevalence of MDD to be 35% among undergraduates and 32% among graduate and professional students, and the prevalence of GAD to be 39% among both undergraduates and graduates. The percentage of UC Berkeley undergraduates dealing with mental health issues reported in the campuswide study is higher than that of the comparative study.
The survey also included questions about the campus health resources students utilize. According to the responses, a majority of students use one-on-one appointments with campus University Health Services, or UHS, counselors; UHS online articles, assessments and videos; drop-in UHS counseling by phone; informal, brief consultation with UHS counselors; non-UC Berkeley community resources; and UHS hotline emergency mental health resources.
The survey also reports that 15% of respondents did not have a need for mental health services.
“We hear you. This is a challenging time for many of you,” said Catherine Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education; Stephen Sutton, vice chancellor for student affairs; and Lisa García Bedolla, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the graduate division, in a campuswide email Oct. 6.
In a second survey, of the 14,413 undergraduates and 3,914 graduates who filled out the survey, 43% of undergraduates and 29% of graduates reported answers associated with MDD; 48% of the undergraduates and 38% of the graduates’ responses were associated with GAD.
These results show a 5% increase in responses associated with MDD among undergraduates. Similarly, the results depict that more undergraduate and graduate students are experiencing GAD, with a 7% increase for undergraduates and a 3% increase for graduates.
The difference between the results from the first and second surveys indicate that the ongoing stress of the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of UC Berkeley students, who are also shouldering increased academic responsibilities.
“What the pandemic has done is exacerbate mental health issues that were mostly already there,” said Deryk Van Brunt, UC Berkeley School of Public Health associate clinical professor, in a statement from a recent report.
On Nov. 5, campus administration sent out a campuswide email, in which they stated that the pandemic has led to more mental health challenges and asked students to fill out a third survey.
Although the results from the third survey have not been shared publicly yet, the fact that the number of students reporting answers associated with MDD and GAD has increased over the span of a month suggests that the anxiety, stress and hopelessness caused by the uncertainty of the pandemic has and will continue to negatively impact students’ mental health.