Collegiate Emotional Health: Tied to Finances, All Time Low

The Higher Education Research Institute has been tracking the mental and emotional health of first-year college students for decades. This year’s freshman class has the lowest rate of emotional health documented in twenty-five years. The consequences of this will likely manifest in a variety of ways as these students progress through college. They’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to keep poor study habits, and to require the service of on-campus mental health counselors. While adjusting to college is always stressful (both academically and socially), this year’s freshman class consistently sites financial stressors as having a direct impact on their lives.

Almost two in three students said that finances “significantly affected” where they chose to attend school. Students whose mothers were not working raised from 7.9 percent last year to 8.6 percent this year, and unemployed fathers were at an all-time high of 4.9 percent. In addition to worrying about the financial burden their education was placing on their parents, students also have a less-than-robust job market to look forward to. In previous years, students were free to “enjoy the college experience” by exploring new thoughts, ideas and social activities before focusing on “adult life” as graduation neared. Now, students arrive at college already apprehensive about their job prospects upon graduation.

They’re not alone in their worries. Money-related stress is a concern shared throughout society. While money can’t buy happiness, lacking money can have a direct impact on an individual’s anxiety, stress and sense of wellbeing. Even those who are employed may live in constant fear of being laid off; others retain guilt for having survived layoff while former co-workers suffer. Counseling for stress and anxiety doesn’t remedy the larger economic challenges the country is facing, but it can equip individuals with coping skills to help them weather it in the most productive, healthy way possible. For college students, it’s usually easy to find a therapist; on-campus counseling is available at almost every campus across the nation, free of charge. Adults whose insurance policies do not include mental health coverage may have access to workplace stress-reduction counseling, and many therapists offer reduced rates for the uninsured.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sedonia

    sedonia

    January 30th, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    Isn’t there anyone talking to these students about financial aid? Hello, this is how I financed my own college education- what is so wrong with them doing the same thing? People act like it is horrible to have to finance college, but hey with tuition what it is today and with the economy the way it is with people stuggling this could be the only chance that many kids will have to go. So why worry when there are ways to make it happen. And on a more profound thought why not actually buckle down and get good grades so that you qualify for scholarship money? Not everyone gets a free ride, so work hard for it.

  • amy

    amy

    January 30th, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    i’m currently in college and yes,a lot of us here are very concerned about what is going to happen once we graduate.even top rankers seem to be uncertain of their future!

  • Tom

    Tom

    January 30th, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    College is indeed expensive. The day-to-day living is as well, not just the tuition,the books and so on. Expecting a teen to be financially responsible when they just got out of school is a lot for them to be dealing with. Yes, it’s going to be stressful. It’s a major change in life and the students have numerous new pressures all at once. Change of scene, money management, new people, new environment, far from home, new professors, new digs, strange faces, peer group pressure, etc. Being totally responsible for yourself for the first time in your life is mentally very tough.

  • Rick

    Rick

    January 31st, 2011 at 4:34 AM

    I know at least 4 people who have postponed their plans of college and are looking out for jobs right now because of the current situation.They say its not only because putting in an investment right now is not easy but also because they are not sure of what’s going to happen once they pass out in the near future.So they want to give it a couple of years.

  • GRACE

    GRACE

    January 31st, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    @Rick:That is sad to know. This delay of theirs can actually have an effect on their entire lives, you know. Everything is going to be much different than what it would have been had they entered college right now. But all we can do is to hope for the situation to improve :|

  • georgia harrison

    georgia harrison

    January 31st, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    hope the situation improves. because a lot of youngsters seem to be struggling due to this. and this can have a major fallout in their lives you know!

  • Isaac

    Isaac

    February 1st, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    Yes, it is expensive but college kids spend more on beer than books in an average term, let’s face it. I’m guessing it hasn’t changed that much since the days when I was there. They all get their overdrafts and max out their student loans without thinking they will have to pay it back some day. Beer’s expensive when you realize what you’re going to be paying for it over the next 15 years while you struggle to clear your balance. They bring some stresses upon themselves. Nevertheless, students need to utilize the help that’s already right there on campus.

  • Nathan

    Nathan

    February 1st, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    If you take into consideration too that it’s perfectly legal for an employer to discriminate based on a high level of education, that’s another stress factor. I wonder how many people who go to college think “This is not worth the money I’m spending.” (Or more accurately “…that my parents are spending”). I bet there are millions of graduates now working in jobs that bear absolutely no relation to what they studied.

  • vivian

    vivian

    February 2nd, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    “Almost two in three students said that finances “significantly affected” where they chose to attend school.”

    And so it should! Of course your available funds is a consideration. Some colleges are astronomical to attend. And if the tuition fees are high, you can be assured the cost of living in the surrounding area will be too. It would be stupid to go to a college you can’t afford to attend. As the article says, it’s already stressful. Why would you pile on more stress by going beyond your resources?

  • Danielle

    Danielle

    February 3rd, 2011 at 10:37 PM

    It’s also unfair to ask your parents if they are helping you out financially to choose a more expensive one just because you like the look if it. Unless you’re coming out of Harvard or Yale, no-one really cares where you got your degree, just that you have it.

  • Bradley

    Bradley

    February 5th, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    What’s being done about it? Anything? If it can reach those kinds of levels, then someone hasn’t been doing their job right somewhere. No matter where you are on the chain, if part of your job is to minimize college kids’ stress levels, you need to seriously think about whether your role is contributing to those swollen numbers and if not, where the weakest link is. Numbers don’t jump overnight.

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