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University Cancels Class Amid Mental Health Crisis

After campus police responded to a suicide and an attempted suicide in the course of a weekend, officials at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill canceled classes on 12 October and declared a Wellness Day, The Washington Post reported.

“We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide,” UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote in a message. Giskiewicz added, “As chancellor, a professor, and a parent, my heart breaks for all those whose suffering goes unnoticed.”

Students and passersby heaped carnations, daisies, sunflowers, and handwritten notes on plastic chairs in a memorial on the UNC campus to classmates who have died this semester, The News & Observer reported.

The university also promoted on-campus mental health support systems and services, although some students, professors, parents, and alumni have said the resources are understaffed and underfunded.

UNC is not alone in facing heightened mental health challenges among students and faculty. According to a 2020 study from the American Council on Education, 53 percent of university presidents indicated that students' mental health was their top concern. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, according to mental health awareness organization Active Minds, and 39 percent of college students experience a significant mental health issue. Despite the widespread nature of mental health challenges, treatment is frequently avoided—Active Minds found that 67 percent of people ages 18 to 24 with anxiety or depression do not seek treatment.

A survey of 33,000 college students across the United States in the fall of 2020 found that half screened positive for depression and/or anxiety, and 83 percent said their mental health had negatively impacted their academic performance within the past month. Two-thirds of college students surveyed were struggling with loneliness and feeling isolated—an all-time high, the researchers found.

One bright spot in the research, however, is that the stigma around mental health is decreasing—94 percent of students said that they would not judge someone for seeking out help for mental health, which signals that they are more likely to seek out help for themselves during a personal crisis.