Rise in Anxiety on Campus Mirrors National Trends

Following national trends in mental health across college campuses, rates of anxiety among both incoming and current students at Harvard are on the rise, according to reports from Harvard University Health Services.

Every fall, incoming freshmen complete a health survey from HUHS. The mental health portion of the survey shows that while rates of depression among incoming freshmen have fluctuated over the past eight years, rates of anxiety have seen a marked increased in recent years, according to HUHS director Paul J. Barreira.

“And this is also nationally, people talking about this issue know that anxiety seems to be increasing compared to other things,” Barreira said.

Rates of depression among incoming freshmen have fluctuated between 7.8 and 11.6 percent over the past eight years. From 2007 to 2011, the rates of anxiety among incoming freshmen hovered between 7.4 and 10.4 percent, but in 2015, the rates climbed to 11.6 percent. That figure indicates the percentage of students who report having experienced these mental health conditions during the year prior to their entrance to Harvard.

According to a national survey conducted annually by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, in 2015, 47.4 percent of students who utilized counseling services reported anxiety as a primary mental health concern, while 40.2 percent reported depression as a primary concern.


The format of the freshman survey at Harvard included the use of stem questions, providing supplemental questions for students who reported having experienced mental illness. These more detailed questions help identify whether or not students had experienced a mental illness by honing in on identifiable symptoms.

“If you answer yes, then they ask something else and they ask something else,” Barreira said. “So it’s pretty darn close to being clinical depression, and not just having a bad day.”

According to Barreira, another health survey conducted by HUHS in March showed that BGLTQ students are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, but not suicidal attempts. The survey also showed that women experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety than men.

Surveys conducted by HUHS show rates of depression are about the same from freshman to senior year, yet rates of anxiety and panic attacks increase over the four years, according to Barreira.

As of March, the Counseling and Mental Health Services branch of HUHS has welcomed over 18,000 visits to date.

—Staff writer Menaka V. Narayanan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnarayanan97.


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