High Prevalence of Mental Health Risk Amid COVID Pandemic Taking a Serious Toll on U.S. Students’ Cognition

Neuroscientific research conducted by Total Brain and the Center for Adolescent Research and Education shows students’ focus, planning, memory and resilience scores fall well below standard average


SAN FRANCISCOFeb. 24, 2021 — The COVID pandemic is having a dramatic impact on U.S. students’ mental health which, in turn, is affecting precious cognitive capacities like memory, focus and planning. According to a neuroscientific study conducted by Total Brain and the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE):

  • 48% of high school and college students are at risk of general anxiety
  • 45% are at risk of social anxiety
  • 39% are at risk of PTSD
  • Risk of common mental health conditions is 19% to 41% higher for females than males

Deteriorating mental health is usually linked with a decline in cognitive capacities. Expressed in percentile ranking, the standard average for any capacity is the 50th percentile ranking. However, the average percentile rank for students in this study fell well below the standard average:

  • Memory: 37th percentile rank (13 percentile points below standard average)
  • Focus: 37th percentile rank (13 percentile points below standard average)
  • Planning: 34th percentile rank (16 percentile points below standard average)

“Academic success is inextricably tied to brain capacities that are themselves directly affected by mental health risk,” noted Louis Gagnon, CEO, Total Brain. “High risk can severely impact student engagement, performance and graduation rates. Investments in student mental health are critical to academic success and can result in economic benefits for educational institutions and society at large.”


“The psychological fallout of having an entire population of students under extended periods of stress cannot be underestimated,” said Stephen Gray Wallace, President and Director, CARE. “We know that teens and young adults are particularly vulnerable to the mental health impacts of the pandemic. What is so unique about the Total Brain approach is that it looks at the relationship between common mental health conditions and actual brain capacities. These findings indicate a strong need to offer self-monitoring and self-care tools to the student population.”


“The importance of providing students with resources that strengthen their resilience and flexibility in the face of conflict or change has never been more apparent than now,” noted Barry A. Garst, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Youth Development Leadership, Clemson University. “The benefit of the Total Brain assessment that was used in this research cannot be underestimated. Students can benefit greatly from self-assessment and scientifically-proven exercises designed to help them build on their cognitive strengths while also addressing deficit areas in need of development.”


This research was conducted between August and October 2020 and included 1,000 randomly selected U.S. students, ages 13 – 22 from across the US. Findings are based on the Total Brain assessment, which uses standardized, scientifically-based digital tasks and questions to measure an individual’s twelve brain capacities across the areas of emotion, feeling, cognition and self-control. Further, the assessment screens for the risk of seven common mental health conditions.


For more information about this research visit www.totalbrain.com/studentresearch.


About Total Brain: Total Brain is based in San Francisco and publicly listed in Sydney, AUS (ASX:TTB). Total Brain is a mental health and brain performance self-monitoring and self-care platform that has more than 1M registered users. Benefits for employers and payers include better mental healthcare access, lower costs and higher productivity. totalbrain.com


About The Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE): CARE is a national nonprofit collaborative headquartered in Palm Beach County, Florida. CARE’s mission is to provide the best available applied, or prescriptive, research on youth development and decision-making. CARE’s vision is to substantially increase favorable youth outcomes and to reduce youth risk behavior by fundamentally changing the way peers, parents and other caring adults talk with teenagers about decision-making. ecarekids.org

Media Contact:
Kelly Faville
Rocket Social Impact

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