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New mtvU & Associated Press Poll Shows How Stress, The Economy & Other Factors Are Affecting College Students’ Mental Health

July 2, 2009

As millions of college students graduate college this year, mtvU, MTV’s 24-hour college network and The Associated Press today revealed the results of a new poll examining the emotional health of college students as they face a global recession and a receding job market, finding that more than half of college seniors are worried they won’t be able to secure a job after graduation.

The study finds that although financial pressures are a major source of daily stress, they do not surpass worries about academic performance. The economy has definitely taken a toll with concerns about finding a job ranking high among stressors, and intensified struggles reported by the almost one in five students whose parents have experienced job loss. Additionally, an alarming number of college students are struggling with mental health issues, but many are not actively seeking out the help that they need. Despite all of this, young people are generally happier than they were last year, are adapting to their environment by switching their majors, going to graduate school or making other proactive changes in their lives, and maintain positive attitudes about the value of their college experience.

The mtvU and Associated Press study follows a month of on-air and online mtvU programming exploring how college students are impacted by increasing financial pressures as part of mtvU and The Jed Foundation’s ongoing “Half of Us” campaign. A similar study examining the impact of stress, mental health struggles, the economy, and other issues facing college students was conducted in 2008 by mtvU / AP in conjunction with “Half of Us.”

Detailed findings from the 2009 study include:


In the face of a bleak economy, nearly one in three college students say financial pressures are a big source of daily stress for them, up from 27 percent last year. 17 percent of students have considered dropping out of school in the past three months, with financial pressures cited as the primary cause.

Nearly one out of five students reports having a parent who lost their job or got laid off since the beginning of the school year. Among these students, the impact of the economy on their emotional health is intensified. These students encounter more negative thoughts related to school completion and job prospects, and about their lives in general. Compared to the larger sample, these students are:

  • Nearly twice as likely to have considered dropping out of school (27 percent vs. 14 percent).
  • More likely to be very worried about finding a summer job (23 percent vs. 11 percent).
  • More likely to say they worry about their parents’ financial situation a lot (55 percent vs. 28 percent).
  • Less likely to find college to be definitely worth the time and money (43 percent vs. 54 percent).


The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1.6 million college degrees will be awarded this year. Yet, companies are expected to hire 22 percent fewer recent college graduates this year, as compared to 2008. 57 percent of the students polled are worried they won’t be able to find a job after graduation, with this number rising to 63 percent among students in their Senior year of college. 10 percent of those polled do not plan to return to school next year because they will be taking time off to work.

Yet, the study shows that many students are maintaining a positive outlook and taking control of their futures by adjusting their plans in response to the difficult job market:

  • Nearly one in five say they made the decision to go to graduate school or professional school because they think they might not be able to get a job with just an undergraduate degree.
  • Roughly one in 10 changed their major this year because they were worried about job prospects.
  • 82 percent think their college education so far has been worth the time and money they have spent.

This summer, 84 percent of college students plan to work, whether at a permanent job, a temporary job or a paid internship, compared to 75 percent last year. 38 percent are worried that they won’t be able to find a job or internship this summer. Half of students rely on income from a part of full time job to pay for their education, with 48 percent saying they are somewhat/very worried about having enough money to pay for school next year, which makes finding summer employment critical.


With 85 percent of students reporting that they experience stress on a daily basis, up from 80 percent last year, it’s clear that stress is a prevalent factor on college campuses today. However, even in light of larger national issues, academic concerns like school work and grades, with 77 percent and 74 percent respectively, maintain their positions as the top drivers of student stress. Financial woes followed close behind, with 67 percent stating that money matters accounted for a lot or some of their daily stress.

In the face of stress and uncertainty, 82 percent maintain positive attitudes surrounding their college education, feeling that it has been worth the time and financial investment.

At the same time, the study shows that stress is taking a serious toll on the everyday lives of college students, affecting them academically and socially:

  • Six out of 10 students report having felt so stressed they couldn’t get their work done on one or more occasions.
  • 53 percent of students report feeling so stressed they didn’t want to hang out with friends on one or more occasions.


The mtvU/AP polls from 2008 and 2009 confirm that mental health struggles are common among the college audience and continued efforts are needed to educate students on avenues for seeking support. When stress becomes excessive and impacts a student’s ability to function, it can have severe consequences, especially for students with a mental health condition. Low energy levels, sleep troubles and appetite issues are among the most common indicators of emotional health problems experienced by students, and nearly one out of every 10 students are reporting signs of moderate to severe depression, and an alarming number of students have reached crisis mode:

  • 17 percent of students overall report that their friends have talked about wanting to end their lives.
  • 10 percent report having a friend who has made a suicide attempt.
  • Seven percent report that they have seriously thought about ending their own lives in the past year.

84 percent of students know where they would go for help if they were coping with emotional distress, with 77 percent turning to friends and 67 percent reaching out to their parents for help. Only half of students report that they are familiar with counseling resources available on their campus, and even fewer students actively seek them out. Among students reporting symptoms of moderate to severe depression, 47 percent of state that they are not familiar with the counseling resources available on their campuses, and only 32 percent received any support or treatment from a counselor or mental health professional since beginning college.

Additional findings from this poll can be found at

About The Jed Foundation (JED)

JED is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. We’re partnering with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. We’re equipping teens and young adults with the skills and knowledge to help themselves and each other. We’re encouraging community awareness, understanding, and action for young adult mental health.

Learn more at Check out our programs including: JED Campus (, Set to Go (, ULifeline (, Half of Us (, Love is Louder (, and Seize the Awkward (

Connect with JED:  EmailTwitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn

Meg Woodworth
Y&R PR for JED

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