Mental health among first-generation college students: Findings from the national healthy minds study, 2018–2021

Ketchen Lipson et al. / Cogent Mental Health / June 2023

Diverse student with white counselor mental health stress

A mounting body of evidence reveals that college mental health outcomes are worsening over time. That said, little is known about the mental health needs of the nearly eight million first-generation students in U.S. postsecondary education. The present study uses population-level data from the national Healthy Minds Study to compare prevalence of mental health symptoms and use of services for first-generation and continuing-generation students from 2018–2021. The sample includes 192,202 students at 277 campuses, with 17.3% being first-generation. Findings reveal a high prevalence of mental health symptoms among both first-generation and continuing-generation students. Controlling for symptoms, FG students had significantly lower rates of mental health service use. Just 32.8% of first-generation students with symptoms received therapy in the past year, relative to 42.8% among continuing-generation students, and this disparity widened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings have important implications for the design and implementation of higher education policies, mental health delivery systems, college persistence and retention initiatives, and public health efforts in school settings.