New and returning students are flooding college campuses across the country. While the start of a new semester is an exciting time for many students, it has been accompanied by a wave of anxiety and fear for those struggling with their mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the number of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems among students and young adults has steadily increased over the past decade, the pandemic has greatly escalated this alarming trend.
A recent University of Michigan survey found that more than 60% of college students “met criteria for one or more mental health problems.” This is a whopping 50% increase in less than a decade. Studies further indicate that marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected — students of color have experienced mental health problems at a higher rate, and a review published by Yale researchers in 2022 noted that students in lower socioeconomic groups were more susceptible to mental health problems than their peers.
On-campus counseling services are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for mental health among students. A College Pulse survey of 2,000 students from across the US found that 68% of students surveyed had never used on-campus mental health services. When asked what they would like their colleges to invest in to improve their mental health services, students most often answered: “expansion of the on-campus counseling staff.”
Mental health issues, especially among college students, both affect and are affected by the arduous academic demands of college. When asked which stressors were the most challenging to deal with, 57% of students indicated that it is difficult to keep up with courses, and a further 47% pointed to the “pressure to do well in college.” “.
In addition, a study published by Sallie Mae found that a third of college students who dropped out of college cited mental health problems as one of their reasons for dropping out of college. These statistics indicate that what happens in the classroom is inextricably linked to the personal, emotional and mental state of students outside the classroom. Why, then, do we often assume that caring for students’ mental and emotional needs is primarily the responsibility of those outside the classroom?
Students’ emotional needs are intertwined with their physical, social and intellectual needs. Academic development is not just an intellectual pursuit, but encompasses the body, mind and emotions. Viewing these aspects of personality as locked up has a detrimental effect on students, adding an unnecessary pressure to compartmentalize emotional needs in the face of high academic demands. To combat the surge in mental health problems among college students, universities need to equip their communities — including (and perhaps especially) their faculty — with the tools for emotionally intelligent teaching and learning.
An emphasis on EQ is critical to equip college communities to care for the mental wellbeing of their students. In his seminal 1990 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It’s More Important Than IQDaniel Goleman notes that each person has both a rational and an emotional self, with one often cutting the other. Emotional intelligence, he argues, is the ability to regulate your own emotions, a process that begins with emotional literacy — the ability to identify and name the emotions you experience and their causes.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI) takes a similar five-step approach to developing emotional intelligence, which they identify with the acronym RULER: recognizing emotions in self and others, understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, labeling emotions with a nuanced vocabulary, expressing emotions in accordance with cultural norms and social context, and regulating emotions with helpful strategies. While the YCEI primarily trains educators in K-12 schools to implement these tools with great success, many students never received targeted social-emotional instruction in their formative years, leading to a lack of emotional intelligence.
dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, writes; “when we cannot recognize, understand or put into words what we are feeling, it is impossible for us to do anything about it: to master our feelings – not deny them but accept them all, even embrace them — and learning to let our emotions work for us, not against us.” While emotional intelligence is just one facet of the vast and complex nexus of solutions needed to help students recover from the pandemic and find health and support amid mental health challenges, implementing more emotionally intelligent education would bring profound, positive change. can provide for students and communities. By enabling students to develop their rational and emotional selves inside both in the classroom and beyond, universities can begin to address the university’s mental health crisis with a more holistic and multi-faceted approach.