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COVID-19 created a global crisis, exacerbating disparities in social determinants of health (SDOH) and mental health (MH). Research on pandemic-related MH and help-seeking is scarce, especially among high-risk populations such as college/university students. We examined self-rated MH and psychological distress, the perceived need for MH services/support, and the use of MH services across the SDOH among college/university students during the start of the pandemic. Data from the COVID-19 Texas College Student Experiences Survey (n = 746) include full- and part-time undergraduate/graduate students. Regressions examined self-rated MH, psychological distress, perceived need, and service use across SDOH, controlling for pre-pandemic MH, age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Economic stability was associated with higher risk of poor MH and need for MH services/support. Aspects of the social/community context protected student MH, especially among foreign-born students. Racial discrimination was associated with both greater psychological distress and use of services. Finally, beliefs related to the sufficiency of available institutional MH resources shaped perceived need for and use of services. Although the worst of the pandemic is behind us, the inequitable distribution of the SDOH among students is unwavering. Demand for MH support is high, requiring higher education institutions to better mobilize MH services to meet the needs of students from diverse social contexts.


© 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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