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Healthy Minds Study Results

In August 2021, Willamette University officially joined the JED Campus Initiative, a 4-year evidence based program designed to cultivate a campus community that fosters emotional wellness and works towards suicide prevention.

The JED Campus Committee at Willamette University has been following the JED Campus strategic timeline and the JED Foundation’s Comprehensive Suicide Prevention framework. This comprehensive approach contains several key components that include;

  • developing life skills, promoting social connectedness,
  • identifying students at risk,
  • increasing help seeking behavior,
  • providing mental health & substance abuse services,
  • following crisis management procedures,
  • restricting access to potentially lethal means and
  • building a strategic plan that addresses each of these components.

Several assessments were implemented to better understand Willamette’s current scope of services and resources, and students’ experiences with mental health, in general. This process included three important benchmarks:

  • A comprehensive self assessment
  • Administration of the Healthy Minds Study in November, 2021,
  • A campus visit from our JED Foundation Campus Partners in March, 2022, that included interviews with several campus constituents and student focus groups.

Healthy Minds Study

The Healthy Minds Study (HMS) collects information about the mental health and wellbeing of
college students utilizing validated psychometric tools. The instrument provides insights into
the experiences of respondents in the areas of:

  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • eating disorders,
  • loneliness,
  • suicidality, and
  • self-injurious behavior.

Willamette University’s HMS was conducted during the month of November, 2021, with a 37% response rate.

Important Takeaways

  • The results are consistent with the experiences of our student CARE teams, faculty and staff partners, and staff in Bishop Wellness Center.
  • The outcomes are aligned with what is being reported by our peer institutions.
  • We have good representation across most demographics and identities (but note that “good representation” does not mean the results are clearly “representative,” as explained below).
  • There are several reasons for optimism in the outcomes:
    • Willamette students know how to access resources, and they trust that these resources are effective.
    • 53% of the respondents reported they were currently accessing counseling support (or, approximately 430 of 2201 students overall)
    • 57% of respondents had not consumed any alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days (or, approximately 465 of 2201 students overall.)
    • Our strong response rate is reflective of a community that cares deeply about health and wellness. Our JED Campus Partner shared that our 37% response rate was the strongest of any school with which she has worked.
  • Some minor differences exist in the limited initial data reported to us and the data in the final report. For example, the percentage of Willamette students who self-identified as “flourishing” actually increased a few percentage points when we got our final and weighted data.
  • These data would seem to confirm what we know about Willamette students. For example, we know that more students are arriving at Willamette with more complex treatment histories, are currently in treatment, or are currently taking psychotropic medication to support their mental wellness.
  • We also know, unfortunately, that Oregon is experiencing a disproportionate impact of the national mental health crisis. The Salem and Portland communities are uniquely challenged by a lack of community providers and an overwhelmed crisis system, which at times can make it difficult for our students to access care.

Statistical Cautions

All Willamette students registered for Fall term, 2021 - undergraduate and graduate at both the Salem and Portland campuses - received an invitation to take the HMS survey. Our response rate varies from question to question; but, at its highest level, there were 817 responses, which represent 37.1% of the population of 2201 students invited to respond1.

Nevertheless, there are important cautions about how to read and interpret the results:

  • We cannot know if the sample of Willamette students is representative of the overall student population for Fall 2021.
    Interpretations should be framed as, “Given those who responded, we know that a minimum of X respondents (which represents Y% of the sample) answered Question “A” with “B” response (e.g., “613 of those who responded (75% of the sample of N=817) answered the “Degree Program” question saying they were pursuing a Bachelor's degree.”)
  • Any generalizations - either about our own population or about our own population in comparison to others - should be interpreted with considerable caution, given both the limitations on our data noted previously and differences in the types of schools aggregated at the national level (e.g., large state schools are lumped together with small, private liberal arts schools; large schools often have much lower response rates; etc.)

Accomplishments in the 2022-2023 Academic Year

Several action items have been implemented as a part of the larger JED Campus initiative:

  • Campus Safety added a QR Code to the back of every one of the new student IDs that links to a comprehensive list of campus and community support and care resources, including several affinity group support options.
  • Several multidisciplinary workgroups are implementing the comprehensive JED Strategic Plan.
  • UWill launched in September, 2022, which affords every enrolled student with up to 8 free telehealth counseling sessions, in addition to services available in Bishop Wellness Center.
  • Continuing QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer); suicide prevention trainings have been (and are being) delivered to many campus audiences to promote a “culture of care.”
  • We have expanded and refined the role of the CARE Team on the Salem and Portland campuses to identify students in distress early and connect them to resources.
  • The CAS Faculty/Student Task Force has been developed.
  • A new, donor-funded Health Coach and Educator position that is now in place at PNCA.

More specific results from the Healthy Minds Study can be found below:


  • Race/Ethnicity

    Respondents were able to endorse more than one category in their responses, which is why the sum of the percentages total more than 100%. Overall responses were mostly consistent with the makeup of Willamette University. 84% of the respondents were White or Caucasian, 12% were Hispanic/Latino/a, 10% were Asian/Asian American, 3% were African American/Black, 2% were American Indian/Alaskan Native, 2% were Arab//Middle eastern or Arab American, 1% were Pacific Islander, and 3% identified as “Other”.

  • Gender

    This instrument allowed us to gather gender data across a continuum of gender identity. 47% of respondents identified as female, 39% identified as male, and 14% identified as “Other” (Trans man/Trans woman, Genderqueer/Gender nonconforming, Gender non-binary, or “self-identify”).

  • Degree Format

    The invitation to complete the Healthy Minds Study was sent to all enrolled students in all colleges and degree programs. 76% of the respondents were in a Bachelor’s program, 11% were in a Master’s program, 9% were in a JD Program, and 4% stated they were in an Associate’s program. Because Willamette does not offer an Associate’s degree, our best guess is that these may have been transfer students or first or second year students that may have mis-interpreted the question.

  • Sexual Orientation

    The Healthy Minds Study asked about sexual orientation. 44% of the respondents identified as Heterosexual, 28% identified as Gay/Lesbian, 17% identified as Queer, 12% identified as Bisexual, 6% identified as Questioning, and 8% identified as “Other”.

The Healthy Minds Network logo

The Healthy Minds Study

Fall 2021 Data Report

View the report

Mental Health Concerns

  • Depression
    40% of survey respondents report having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. A little more than half of respondents (54%) report moderate to severe depression at the time of survey administration as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).2 By comparison, 33% of students in the national HMS sample reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives and 43% reported moderate to severe depression at the time of survey administration.2
  • Anxiety

    Nearly half of the respondents (44%) report a previous diagnosis of anxiety at some point in their lives. Similarly, nearly half (46%) reported moderate to severe anxiety at the time of the survey administration as measured by the GAD-7.3 By comparison, 38% of students in the national HMS sample reported having been diagnosed with anxiety at some point in their lives and 38% reported moderate or severe anxiety at the time of survey administration.3

  • Eating Disorders

    About 9% of respondents reported having been diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives. To further screen for those who may be at risk for an eating disorder the SCOFF questionnaire (a five item self-report measure) is commonly used. Using a cut-off score of 3 or higher suggests about one in four respondents (27%) may be at risk for an eating disorder.4

    National data indicate that 5% of students report having been diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives and 12% screen for being at risk (SCOFF score of 3 or greater).4

  • Alcohol, Marijuana, and Other Drug Use

    57% of respondents had not consumed any alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days (or, approximately 465 of 2201 students overall.). Differences in alcohol consumption among Willamette students were observed by gender. Among students who reported drinking within the prior two weeks, 68% of males, 64% of females, and 53% of transgender, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, and genderqueer (TGNQ) students reported high-risk drinking at least one time; however, the number of responses for TGNQ students was small, making it difficult to draw strong conclusions for that group.5

    Among students who consumed any alcohol, Willamette's transgender, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, and genderqueer (TGNQ) students were less likely to report drinking during those two weeks (47%) than male and female students (32-36%).

    42% of students affirmed some level of marijuana use in the previous 30 days. Reported use of other substances was very low. For example, 1% of respondents affirmed some level of cocaine use in the previous 30 days, 2% affirmed psilocybin use, and 1% affirmed the use of benzodiazepines without a prescription. Overall, 57% of respondents reported no drug use at all in the previous 30 days.

  • Non Suicidal Self Injury and Suicidal Ideation/Behavior

    Non suicidal self injury is intentionally injuring oneself without the intent to end one’s life. Examples include cutting, burning, punching oneself, rubbing sharp objects on skin, etc. A little less than half of respondents (43%) affirmed engaging in self injury at least once in the previous year, compared to 24% of the national data.

    Regarding suicidal thoughts and behaviors; about one quarter of respondents (24%, or 184 students) report having seriously thought about attempting suicide in the previous 12 months, compared to 14% of the national data. Of those students that affirmed considering suicide in the previous twelve months, 36% (66 students) reported making a plan, and 8% (14 students) reported making an attempt.

Help Seeking Behavior and Barriers

  • Help Seeking Behavior

    53% of the respondents reported they were currently accessing counseling support (or, approximately 430 of 2201 students overall). Further, 81% of respondents said they know where to go to seek professional help on campus. 85% of the survey respondents agreed to some extent with the statement “I currently need help for emotional or mental health problems or challenges such as feeling sad, blue, anxious or nervous. Among those students who were screened to be at high risk for depression and/or anxiety, 87% have at some point received professional support or treatment for it.

    Many students also reported seeking non-professional help from a number of resources including friends (57%), room-mates (26%), significant other (35%), family (50%), religious contacts (2%), faculty (9%), or staff member (4%).

  • Barriers to Seeking Services

    Students were asked what factors caused them to receive fewer services (therapy, medication, etc) for their mental or emotional health that they would have otherwise received. Top reasons included not enough time (43%), financial - too expensive or not covered by insurance (35%), difficulty finding an appointment (34%), not sure where to go (28%), prefer to deal with them on their own or with family/friends (20%), people providing services don’t understand me (19%), and privacy concerns (4%).

Academics, Community, and Belonging

  • Academic Impairment

    Students were asked “In the past 4 weeks, how many days have you felt that your emotional or mental difficulties have hurt your academic performance. 9% of respondents reported “none”, 22% reported “1-2 days”, 29% reported “3-5 days”, and 40% reported “6 or more days”.

  • Loneliness

    The survey also measured students’ subjective sense of loneliness. Specifically, students were asked:

    How often they felt they lacked companionship:

    • 27% responded “hardly ever”
    • 43% responded “some of the time”
    • 27% responded “often”

    How often they felt left out:

    • 22% responded “hardly ever”
    • 45% responded“some of the time”
    • 22% responded “often”

    How often they felt isolated:

    • 20% responded “hardly ever”
    • 43% responded “some of the time”
    • 20% responded “often”
  • Anti-Racism

    Overall, 72% of students agreed, to some extent, that their school is actively working to combat racism. In the national HMS sample, 81% of students agreed that their school is actively working to combat racism.

  • Positive Mental Health

    25% of respondents self identified that they are “flourishing” as measured using The Flourishing Scale, an eight-item summary measure of the respondent's self-perceived success in important areas such as relationships, self-esteem, purpose, and optimism (Diener, Wirtz, Tov, Kim-Prieto, Choi, Oishi, & Biswas-Diener, 2009). The score ranges from 8-56, and the instrument uses 48 as the threshold for positive mental health.


The HMS survey will be readministered to all Willamette students in the final year of the JED Campus partnership (academic year 2024-2025) to identify areas of growth and opportunities for continued improvement.

1Some students completed a few demographic questions at the start of the survey but replied to no mental health related questions thereafter. Their responses are excluded from Willamette’s analysis.

2Moderate or severe depression, as measured by Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) score of 10-27.

3Moderate or severe anxiety, as measured by a General Anxiety Disorder 7 (GAD-7) score of 10-21.

4At risk of an eating disorder, as measured by a Sick-Control-One stone-Fat-Food (SCOFF) score of 3-5.

5The JED Foundation measures high-risk drinking as five alcoholic drinks in a row for males and four for females, and Willamette has used those thresholds when reporting the HMS data for students identifying as male or female. No known, validated measure of high-risk drinking exists for TGNQ people. The national HMS sample sets the threshold for high-risk drinking among these students at five alcoholic drinks in a row or more. A more inclusive range of “4 or 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row” was used for TGNQ students at Willamette, as universally setting a higher threshold of five drinks for all students runs the risk of underreporting high-risk drinking for some students.

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