Date of Award

January 2023

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Katie Wang


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted US college student mental health, but it is unclear how racial/sexual/gender minority students have specifically been affected. Traditional barriers to help-seeking such as mental health stigma do not necessarily hold the same influence in college student populations, and there is mixed evidence on what barriers are the most significant in this population. Therefore, the present study aims to ascertain the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health outcomes of racial/sexual/gender minority college students and identify the largest barriers to care for college students.

Methods: Data were obtained from the 2020-21 Healthy Minds Study (HMS) dataset.

Results: 54% of college students were currently enrolled in therapy. Students of color had significantly lower odds to currently be enrolled in therapy while sexual minority students had significantly higher odds. Mental health stigma was relatively low among college students, and perceptions of quality of on-campus mental health services were mostly favorable. Gender and sexual minority students had significantly higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms compared to their Cisgender and Heterosexual counterparts. The most common sources of support for coping with severe emotional distress were a clinician, friend, significant other, or family member. 30% of college students indicated that mental health care was more difficult to access during the pandemic.

Conclusions: Many college students are enrolled in mental health services, but there are important differences in enrollment by race and sexual orientation. Traditionally acknowledged barriers to care do not explain why college students do not access mental health services. Sexual and gender minority students are an at-risk population for poor mental health. College students seek emotional support from clinical sources as well as close social contacts including their family and friends. The COVID-19 pandemic was a significant barrier to care for college students during 2020-2021.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access