About The 61% Project

The 61% Project, a special-interest, digital publication, explores the mental-health crisis on college campuses. It examines this issue’s impact on a generation as it navigates other cultural forces, including climate change, the digital revolution of social media, the 2008 financial crash and its impact on their parents, the college debt crisis, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo era, fake news, the polarization of politics, and a pandemic. Written, filmed, photographed, and illustrated by journalists from this demographic, these stories report on both mental illness and mental-health care.

A wide range of research documents this ongoing crisis. In fact, a statistic from a 2017 report by the American College Health Association inspired the name for this work: three in five students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety at least once within the last year. According to research conducted by the World Health Organization, one in five college students experienced one or more diagnosable mental disorders worldwide, and more than 80% of these cases had pre-matriculation onset. The ACHA report pulled from more than 81,000 student surveys from more than 100 academic institutions across the U.S. In another report from the same association two years later in 2019, more than 65% of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety at least once within the last year. That same report found 45% of students felt so depressed within the last year it was difficult to function. More than 13% seriously considered suicide and 2% reported attempting suicide. These numbers illustrate an alarming picture of student life on campuses today, and administrators are scrambling to address this issue. In a survey by the American Council on Education in 2019, more than 70% of college presidents reported having reallocated or provided new funding to address concerns over student mental health.

Increase in Factors Related to Mental-Health Issues Among College Students

The Center for College Mental Health at Penn State University issues an annual report that surveys more than 160 college and university counseling centers. The 2018-2019 report included a comparison of mental-health factors in the last nine years, demonstrating a spike across a range of conditions, engagement with counseling services, and treatment.

But the work of administrators on individual college campuses and the struggles of their students tell only part of the story. Global efforts to destigmatize mental illness have had success in the past decade, prompted more people to seek out treatment, and changed the mainstream narrative among privileged communities in America, which have seen the greatest strides in the normalization of mental-health care and mental illness. Yet, barriers and stigma persist. Marginalized communities face additional challenges in terms of awareness, stigma, and access to proper health care and medication. Social issues such as the growing income inequality, LGBTQ+ phobias, cultural stereotypification, gender discrimination, and systemic racism inform these obstacles.

These frictions, challenges, and cultural forces all exist in the dorm rooms, classrooms, auditoriums, and dining halls of America’s colleges and universities. This project seeks to illuminate those issues and the students engaged with them as they work to overcome these challenges. It also seeks to help those in need. Each story features a call-to-action box that offers a resource for the issue explored in that story. And we encourage readers to take the wellness survey, which offers users an assessment of their current mental wellness.

The 61% Project is the work of students in MND 504 Multimedia Projects, a capstone course at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.