Published: Nov. 7, 2022 By

Students on campus

A student’s time on a university campus is an opportunity for academic and social exploration and growth. But it can also be a time of significant stress and tension that reflects the world in which we live. 

CU Boulder is not immune to real-world issues such as food insecurity, affordable housing and the rising costs of daily living. This fall we launched a Basic Needs Center on campus to connect students struggling with basic essentials. 

The topic of how students are faring in their mental health and well-being is also one that we, as educators, are focusing on with increasing frequency and depth. 


These fundamental needs underpin every other measure of success that the university helps students to achieve. Unfortunately, recent student polling shows the needs are great. In a survey of 2,000 undergraduates conducted in March 2022, students were over twice as likely to rate their overall mental health as poor (22%) than excellent (9%), with 56% responding “fair” or “poor.” 

But thanks to innovative research and treatments being developed on campus, CU Boulder is making real progress toward understanding and addressing the mental health of children, youth and young adults. 

The research happening at CU Boulder considers multiple elements of mental health, from better understanding the biological and environmental influences on developing brains to testing new methods to diagnose and treat mental illness. Importantly, our campus is developing student-focused, holistic preventive measures — “mental hygiene” as it’s sometimes called — that can help prepare teens and young adults to better handle life’s inevitable challenges.

What particularly delights me about the work happening on campus is how students are driving and participating in the effort. At the Renée Crown Wellness Institute, students co-design research projects, working alongside top scientists, families, teachers and community members while providing real-world insights drawn from their own life experiences. 

Students who work with the Crown Institute — and in labs across campus — will graduate prepared to impact residents of Colorado and beyond as researchers and practitioners in the field of mental health. And they’ll gain the satisfaction of creating tangible solutions that improve emotional well-being for themselves and their peers. 

Perhaps the most difficult thing about addressing mental health is that individual needs are highly variable and the efforts largely internal. But in a university community, we witness the positive outcomes that occur as young people find support, agency and meaning in their lives. We see it in strengthened relationships, greater resilience and emotional stability that propel their lives and all of humanity forward. 

Is there any greater measure of student success than that? 

Philip P. DiStefano is the 11th chancellor of CU Boulder. He is the Quigg and Virginia S. Newton Endowed Chair in Leadership, overseeing CU Boulder’s Leadership Programs. 


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Photo by Patrick Campbell