Compounding Challenges:  Addressing Basic Needs and Mental Health Among College Students 


The intersection of collegiate basic needs insecurity and mental health challenges poses a significant issue in higher education today. While striving to fulfill academic obligations, college students often struggle to access nutritious food, stable housing, and mental health support. Recognizing and addressing these issues is vital for individual student well-being and fostering a supportive academic environment conducive to overall student success in higher education. 

Prevalence of Basic Needs Insecurity on College Campuses

Results from the Fall 2023 Student Financial Wellness Survey (SFWS), conducted by Trellis Strategies, reveal a high prevalence of basic needs insecurity among college students. Forty-five percent reported low to very low food security, and 42% faced housing insecurity. These challenges extend beyond material deprivation, significantly impacting academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being. 

Mental Health Challenges for College Students

Examining the mental health landscape, the SFWS shows concerning rates of anxiety, depression, and related challenges among higher education students. Thirty-two percent grappled with symptoms of major depressive disorder, and 43% exhibited signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Academic pressure, social isolation, and financial stress contribute to these challenges for students starting out on their own. 

Interplay of Basic Needs and Mental Health in Higher Education

The interconnection between basic needs insecurity and mental health challenges is pronounced among specific student populations, including first-generation and LGBTQIA+ students. Disparities within these communities underscore the need for tailored interventions to address their unique needs effectively and improve their student experience

Prioritizing College Student Wellbeing 

The SFWS data underscores the urgent need to support college students nationwide. Tailored interventions addressing basic needs insecurities and mental health challenges are essential for creating a supportive higher education environment. Recognizing and addressing the unique needs of special student populations is crucial for fostering student success and well-being. By prioritizing these efforts, we can collectively work towards creating a more equitable and supportive higher education environment for everyone. 

Allyson Cornett, CPH, MPH is the Research Manager of the Qualitative and Learner Insights team at Trellis Strategies. Her latest research highlights the intersection of student success, mental health, and basic needs insecurity among college students, illuminating critical pathways toward holistic support and well-being in higher education. As a former food and housing insecure student, Allyson is passionate about solving the college hunger crisis.