Certainly the college experience can be a lot of fun: parties, new friends, travel abroad, extracurriculars, and even some exciting classes. But to anyone who has experienced college and then looked back from the other side, it’s no surprise that this is a highly stressful time. Adjusting to new living environments, transitioning from dependence to independence, rigorous academic expectations, demanding responsibilities to clubs and organizations, and generally exploring the various life choices that come with newfound freedom. These are all common undergraduate experiences. They’re also paired, too often, with poor nutrition and consistently insufficient sleep.
The call to “do everything” and “make the most” of the experience is not bad in theory; but is it any wonder that 80% of college students are mentally stressed? Several reports over the last year have indicated that more students than ever are seeking on-campus counseling and reporting mental health concerns. Perhaps that rise indicates a change in the college experience, or perhaps simply a change in awareness of problems that have existed for quite some time. Either way, a recent study looked farther in depth at the mental challenges college students face, and their findings are a bit overwhelming. Two in three college students exhibited mild to moderate symptoms that point to mental health concerns, and over 80% reported elevated distress levels. Only one in three distressed students got help, and only 16% of the students surveyed had no mental health problems.
So what can be done about this? Certainly, awareness of mental health issues and the detrimental affects of stress can’t hurt. It’s also important to ensure students know what counseling and therapy resources are available to them, and to encourage and de-stigmatize taking advantage of those resources. But on a deeper level, might we consider why college is so stressful and overwhelming in the first place? College students may have less balanced sleeping and eating habits than adults do, but the stress and responsibilities expected of them aren’t unique to college campuses. In some ways, college is a distilled version of the stressful pace of life throughout the rest of our society. That stress doesn’t go away upon graduation.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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