The Resilience and “Crazy Beauty” of Today’s Students

It’s no secret that the past 2 years have challenged students in ways we’ve never seen before. We’ve heard on the news – and perhaps from our own friends and family members – just how devastating the impact of the pandemic has been on student mental health.

  • Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the proportion of emergency medical visits related to mental health crises has had a sharp increase among children since the pandemic started.
  • A recent survey of K-12 students, conducted after stay-at-home orders went into effect, found that 38% of students reported being more concerned with their well-being, 51% reported being more stressed, and 39% reported feeling lonelier.
  • 67% of college students said that their emotional health is worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic and 56% of students are significantly concerned with their ability to care for their mental health, according to the Jed Foundation.
  • 77% of college students acknowledged currently needing help for emotional or mental health problems such as feeling sad, blue, anxious, or nervous, according to The Healthy Minds Study, Fall 2020 Data Report.

While these statistics are deeply concerning and important and true, what’s also important and true is the profound resilience we’ve witnessed in students on a national and global scale. Now more than ever, students are speaking out about mental health concerns and playing a vital role in ending mental health stigma.

According to Active Minds, the premier organization impacting young adults and mental health, two-thirds of students reported an increase in supporting others with their mental wellness. Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 30,000 high school and college students joined or launched an Active Minds chapter at their campus, with the goal of changing the culture around mental health in their communities and inspiring action among their peers.

Joining a mental health support group for the first time can take immense courage, and yet many individuals, including students, have made that brave choice in support of their mental health. The National Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness reported an 82% increase in attendance at of their free, therapist-led support groups since 2019.

GLSEN, the leading national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring every student has the right to a safe, supportive, and LGBTQ-inclusive K-12 education, shared an important Back to School Resource, which was authored by high school students with their LGBTQ+ peers in mind. And, in the midst of the pandemic, thousands of LGBTQ+ students and allies came together virtually to attend Day of Silence, a student-led demonstration to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in schools.

I wish that when we turn on the news we could see more stories about the incredible steps students are taking, in their own lives and as mental health allies and advocates, to end mental health stigma and seek mental wellness. One college student recently said to me, “I’m prouder of telling a safe friend about my eating disorder than making honors last semester. It seems like a little thing, to talk to a friend about mental health stuff, but it’s not. It’s big. She helped me find a therapist and a support group. I’m still struggling, but not like I was when I was all alone.”

As graduation season approaches, may we pause to celebrate the resilience of students today. And before setting foot onto the next chapter of their lives, may students take a moment to look back at all they’ve overcome to get to where they are standing now – and consider the words of author Cheryl Strayed: “Close your eyes and remember everything you already know. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far, guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits. Trust that all you learned during your college [and K-12] years was worth learning.”