Coordinating Author Information: Julianna G. Nails | Villanova University

Session Abstract: Understanding the mental health needs of college students is crucial for university counseling centers, professors, and parents so that they can better help students to be successful both at school and after they graduate. Some data have suggested a significant increase in psychiatric diagnoses and treatment for college students in the United States from 2009 to 2015, which indicates that college students are currently experiencing a mental health crisis (Oswalt et al., 2018). However, there is a lack of empirical literature focused on the larger population of college students who do not necessarily seek help. In the current study, we utilized the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI; Morey, 2007) to investigate the claim that college students are experiencing more mental health difficulties today than they were 25 years ago. To test this hypothesis, we compared data from an “early student” cohort of undergraduate students (n = 1,051) who took the PAI in approximately 1990 to a “recent student” cohort of undergraduate students (n = 267) who took the PAI after 2015 but before 2020. Students in both cohorts completed the full version of the PAI, administered in person, using standard instructions at a U.S. college or university for research purposes. Differences between generational cohorts in full scale and subscale scores on the PAI reveal several significant findings suggesting greater severity of mental health struggles for college students in the present day. The results of this study provide more specificity regarding generational differences in college students in their symptom reporting, situational stress, and attitudes toward psychological treatment.


Julianna G. Nails | Villanova University

John E. Kurtz, PhD | Villanova University

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