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U of M unveils 2013 statistics on student health

Mental health is still No. 1 issue on Twin Cities campus

December 17, 2013

How healthy are University of Minnesota–Twin Cities’ students? According to the 2013 College Student Health Survey, that depends. Mental health continues to be the No. 1 public health issue on campus, with diagnoses and demand for counseling services steadily rising. However, students report the lowest tobacco-use rates ever recorded and high-risk drinking is trending downward.

"Our students are here to succeed academically," said Dr. Gary Christenson, chief medical officer at Boynton Health Service. "To do so, they need a solid foundation of physical and mental health. This survey data helps us raise awareness and get people to resources earlier rather than later, and improve the overall health of the community—and the success of every student."

More than 2,000 UMTC students completed the survey, representing a 34.5% response rate. Boynton administers the survey every three years, capturing data around key areas that directly affect the health and academic achievement of students, including nutrition, drug use, personal safety, and sexual health.

Depression, anxiety top mental health issues
According to this year’s survey, 29.9 percent of students say they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, up from 27.1 percent in 2010. Those diagnosed in the last 12 months is at 14.3 percent—up three percentage points from three years ago.

"To fulfill our promise of helping students learn and develop, we must pay attention to their health and well-being," said Ferdinand Schlapper, director of the University’s Boynton Health Service. "We’re seeing increased stress and demand on our students. It’s critical that we assess if we’re adequately and effectively addressing these issues."

The most common student stressors include roommate conflict, the termination of a personal relationship and the death of a loved one. This semester, Boynton has seen almost a 30-percent increase in new requests for mental health assessments.

"Counseling services across the country recognize that the issues students are presenting now are at a different level and severity than 20 years ago," Christenson added. "College is a period of transition where they need to make choices and find balance. They’re going to a whole different academic world and developing a new social network. Plus, they’re dealing with financial independence and freedom."

Tobacco use continues to drop
"There is an association between tobacco use and lower Grade Point Average (GPA)," said David Golden, Boynton’s director of public health and communications. "A variety of data sources indicate smokers are more likely to get sick more often and miss class, which can affect negatively affect academic success."

Among 18–24-year-old's, 15.5 percent report using marijuana within the past 30 days—much higher than the daily tobacco use rate, which is only 1.9 percent (down from 9.8 percent in 1998). Among tobacco users, 40.7 percent report using marijuana and 61.9 percent engage in high-risk drinking.

High-risk drinking aligns with national rates
Approximately 30 percent of all students engage in high-risk drinking—defined as consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting within the past two weeks. That’s down from 33.5 percent in 2010 and 36.5 percent in 2007.

"It’s similar to the trend we’re seeing across the country," said Julie Sanem, director of Boynton’s health promotion. "While this is great news, it’s important to recognize there are negative consequences associated with alcohol use. For example, nearly 20 percent of students report missing a class or performing poorly on a test or project."

Students ages 18–24 report the highest levels of high-risk drinking: 35.2 percent in 2013; 41.6 percent in 2007. Just 60.7 percent of all students would "very likely" call 911 for someone passed out due to alcohol or drug use. However, the percentage of students driving under the influence has declined—19.5 percent among high-risk drinkers, down from 26.3 percent in 2010 and 32.9 percent in 2007.

Other notable statistics
Bicycle helmet use is up on campus. Those who never use one is down to 43.7 percent, from 49.4 percent in 2010; and those who always use one is up from 21.1 percent three years ago to 24.8 percent. The percentage of students with more than $20,000 in loan debt is 34.5 percent of fourth-year undergrads and 51.9 percent of fifth-year-plus undergrads. And for the first time, students were asked if they text while driving—38.8 percent responded never and 61.2 percent said "sometimes" or more often.

In addition to data collected on the Twin Cities campus, 28 other institutions across Minnesota also participated in a comprehensive survey, titled the Minnesota Postsecondary Students Report. In 1995, Boynton was the first college health service in the nation to conduct a campus-wide health survey, which served as a model for a national survey developed by the American College Health Association in 1998. Both the Minnesota Postsecondary Students Report and the UMTC report are available here.

About Boynton Health Service
Boynton Health Service is a multi-disciplinary, ambulatory care clinic with locations on the East Bank and St. Paul campuses of the University of Minnesota and serves students, staff, and faculty.

Providing approximately 100,000 visits per year, Boynton Health Service helps to keep the University community healthy and successful in their academics, work, and personal lives. Patients can access primary, eye, and dental care; mental health services; physical therapy; nutrition consultation; massage therapy; travel consultations and immunizations; and women’s health care.

In addition, Boynton Health Service serves as a public health service providing outreach programs for health promotion, direct services, mass immunization clinics for influenza, and employee wellness programs. According to patient satisfaction surveys, 94 percent of patients surveyed report they would recommend the provider they saw to someone else and they rated their overall care by their provider as a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10.

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