All Posts Tagged With: "stress"
As more students ask for extensions, profs ask: is this real?
I met Anna Drake, a University of Waterloo assistant professor, at recent event in Toronto and asked: what are professors talking about these days? She said they’re discussing how many students are presenting with notes from counsellors or doctors saying they’ve been mentally unwell or extremely stressed and are in need of extensions or exam deferrals.
Drake, a political scientist, doesn’t recall this being an issue when she was an undergraduate or when she started teaching as a master’s student in 2001. But a few years ago, a professor warned her and other teaching assistants at Queen’s University that, “it seemed to be fairly easy for students to get notes of this kind.” Too easy, perhaps.
Later, teaching her own course at the University of Victoria, she was surprised when four students out of roughly 40 presented with notes near the end of the term asking to defer their semesters.
What students are talking about today (March 20th)
1. Students at the University of British Columbia celebrated cycling culture with electronic music and glow sticks at the UBC Bike Rave on Friday night. It was organized by student residence advisors and was funded by a community grant. Unlike the drug-fuelled all-night parties of the 1990s that inspired the bike rave, this one was, according to The Ubyssey, “good clean fun.”
2. A student writing in The Varsity at the University of Toronto reports that the stress seminar she attended is a sorry excuse for counseling. “I had hoped that this “Coping with Stress” workshop, run by U of T’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) would help me, but instead it left me frustrated and angry,” writes Amanda Greer. “After a hard first semester, I approached CAPS about meeting with a counsellor. I was told there was a four month waiting list and to start looking for other options.” She points out that despite much discussion about the mental wellness of Canadian students, including in a recent cover story in Maclean’s, students often can’t access the one-on-one counselling. It’s a shame, but I think the explanation is obvious: tight budgets.
3. Western University is mourning the loss of student Noah Kishinevsky, whose body was found in a parked car at a high rise in London, Ont. The cause of death has not been confirmed, “but a hazardous substance was found in Kishinevsky’s car,” reports The Gazette. Police told the student newspaper that there was “no foul play” and that they won’t release more details.
4. A commentary in The Griff student newspaper at MacEwan University defends Ohio University photography student Sara Lewcowicz, who witnessed a man beat his girlfriend and documented it with photos instead of intervening. The heartbreaking photos of Shane, 31, abusing Maggie, 19, were published in TIME. Rebecca Trites supports the young photojournalist, arguing that intervening can be dangerous and that the photo essay creates awareness of domestic violence.
5. Police arrested 45 people in Montreal who were demonstrating against tuition fee hikes on Tuesday, reports CBC. As usual, police immediately declared the demonstration illegal because organizers did not submit an itinerary in advance. Several of the protesters threw snowballs, and four were arrested for assaults on police, reports Radio-Canada. The hikes recently proposed in Quebec under its Parti Quebecois government are about $70 per year—much less than the $325 increase that was planned by former premier Jean Charest. Quebec students pay about $2,200 per year.
Dogs are great, but a poodle won’t tutor you in French
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is exactly that bugs me about this trend towards creating puppy rooms at Canadian universities. It’s not that I dislike dogs. I like dogs. I had a dog growing up. And who doesn’t like puppies?
If you haven’t been following university news lately, the gist is this: universities have taken to setting up special rooms with friendly dogs as a way to help students cope with stress, especially around exam time. The idea has been around for a while, but Dalhousie University’s new Puppy Room got picked up by the national and international media and suddenly everybody and his dog has one.
But like I say, there’s something about this cuddly craze that isn’t sitting well with me.
Shortage of work blamed
A survey of Canadians from 18 to 80 found that respondents in the earliest stage of their adult lives are more likely to stress over money than anyone else as they struggle to nail down good jobs.
The online survey — conducted for Sun Life Financial — found nine out of 10 respondents aged 18 to 24 experience “uncomfortable” levels of stress, with money and work two of the biggest factors.
Those in the next age brackets aren’t doing much better, with 80 per cent of respondents between 25 and 44 indicating they are also stressed to the max from job and financial concerns.
Negative news stories may affect stress (but not for men)
It’s said that no news is good news. But what’s the effect of bad news presented by the media?
For women, exposure to negative news stories may make them more reactive to subsequent stressful situations, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, which did not see a similar response in men.
Researchers also found that women had a better recollection of information learned from those so-called bad news stories.
“Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded with news in the newspaper, the radio, on the TV. And now with Facebook and online press and Twitter, you are constantly bombarded with information,” said lead author Marie-France Marin, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal.
“It’s difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there.
“And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case.”
Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal
This week’s issue of Maclean’s took an in-depth look at the mental health crisis on university campuses. Read the story, check out our tips for dealing with stress and join the conversation on Twitter: #brokengeneration
In late August, as the first leaves changed from green to red and gold, university ghost towns were coming back to life. Residences were dusted out. Classrooms were readied. Textbooks were purchased—and new outfits, new computers, new posters to decorate dorm room walls. Amid this bustle, construction workers at Cornell University began installing steel mesh nets under seven bridges around campus. They overlook the scenic gorges for which Ithaca, N.Y., is known; in early 2010, they were the sites of three Cornell student suicides of a total of six that year. Students cross the bridges daily on their way to class.
Cornell’s bridge nets are the latest and most visible sign that the best and brightest are struggling. In an editorial in the Cornell Daily Sun following the 2010 suicides, president David J. Skorton acknowledged these deaths are just “the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere.”
But will it really reduce stress?
The only thing worse than stressing out about upcoming exams is when you’re done writing them and you stress out about the marks you’ll get.
The University of Toronto Law faculty knows this and they want to make students focus less on marks and more on “intellectual engagement.”
After two years of studying how to reduce stress about marks and help students enjoy their studies, the law faculty is considering dropping letter grades (A, B+, B, C+, C, D, F). Several law schools in the United States use the pass/fail system, including Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Yale, they note. A pass/fail system can help reduce students’ anxiety over marks, they say.
Except, uh, U of T’s news system won’t be pass/fail. Instead, five categories of marks will be used: High Honours, Honours, Pass, Low Pass, and Fail. In other words, the letter grade system isn’t being dropped, it’s just getting a face-lift. It’s like making a director’s cut and calling it a new movie.
I’m not exactly sure how renaming the letter grades is supposed to reduce anxiety over marks. Instead of stressing about getting A’s, students can stress about getting ‘high honours.’
Here’s an idea: instead of assigning them grades, why not rank students on a superheroes scale, Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Green Lantern…
Then again, that might not work. Students would still fear getting an ‘Aquaman.’
Scott Dobson-Mitchell is a Biomedical Sciences student at Waterloo. Follow @ScottyDobson
Including some tips you’ve never heard
7. Pet a puppy
Pets reduce stress and there may be a furry friend closer than you think. Therapeutic Paws of Canada brings therapy dogs to stressed out students at the University of Ottawa and McGill. BC Pets and Friends comes to the rescue of students at the University of British Columbia.
6. Don’t worry about getting it all done
Chances are good that you won’t have time to catch up on all those textbook chapters. If it looks like you’re going to run out of time, it’s often best to focus on what’s in the lecture notes and the lab reports. The textbook may be the last thing your professor has in mind when designing the test.
10 ways to study effectively without falling apart
Exams, assignments and anxiety: for university students, the end of classes in December is just the beginning. Fortunately, there are ways to make it through without sacrificing your well-being. Here, in no particular order, are 10 tips for surviving and thriving during exam season.
1. Embrace list making. Jot down your exam schedule, assignment due dates and important reminders on a calendar. Make a study schedule and stick to it, but don’t forget to pencil in breaks.
2. Find the right study space. Whether you prefer a bustling coffee shop or the library’s silent floor, find a proper chair and pick a well-lit space. Steer clear of the ultimate temptations: television and chatty roommates.
3. Triage. Let’s face it: you can’t properly analyze an entire Shakespeare anthology in three days. Time is limited, so study the hard subjects first (when you’re most alert) and prioritize material based on urgency and relevance.
Doctors blame exam anxiety, heart condition
Jairaj Chandran, 18, was 10 minutes into his high school theology exam in Cambridge, U.K. when he felt his chest getting tight and he started to having trouble breathing. He asked to step outside.
“My legs and fingers were numb. It was terrifying,” he told The Sun. Luckily, he knew about his existing heart condition and asked to be sent to the hospital. It was, as he suspected, a heart attack. Surgeons performed emergency surgery to replace a valve, leaving him with an eight-inch scar.
“The doctors said it was probably stress related and I was nervous because theology was one of my worst subjects,” said Chandran. The university used earlier marks to determine his A-grade in the class. He plans to study politics in Australia.
Pilot program lets students check out Monty the ‘therapy dog’ for 30 minute sessions
A three day pilot program at the distinguished law school, which only accepts six to seven per cent of applicants and counts three sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justices and former presidents Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford among its alumni, was launched this week where stressed out students can check out Monty, a “therapy dog”, at the library, reported the New York Times.
Monty, a brown border terrier mix according to ABC News, was available for 30 minutes at a time starting Monday Mar. 21, though the university isn’t revealing where the dog will stay when it’s not playing fetch with it’s high strung new friends.
In an email sent to students, law librarian Blair Kauffman wrote that “it is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being,” according to the Times.
Sebastian Swett, a second year law student at Yale who signed up for a session with Monty, told the Times that while he didn’t believe the program would solve anyone’s anxiety issues, “it’s certainly nice to play with a dog for half an hour.”
Time off in November to help students relieve stress
Ryerson University is the latest to approve an additional reading week to take place in the fall. On Wednesday, Ryerson’s senate voted to shorten the fall semester from 13 weeks to 12 beginning in 2012.
At the University of Alberta, the students’ union will be polling students in an upcoming referendum to gauge support for starting the semester a week earlier, to compensate for the break. The purpose of the break is to give students the opportunity to relieve stress. “Our student counselling services had last year the highest usage numbers in November so in recognizing that February winter reading weeks are established to deal with the mental health there, November seemed like another time to take a look at,” says Nick Dehod, University of Alberta’s student president.
Several universities have implemented fall breaks in recent years, including the University of Ottawa, Trent University and the University of Toronto. Wilfrid Laurier University is examining the idea and the University of Calgary has had a fall break for years.
Everything seems unfamiliar and un-memorizable
Normally, the more I study for an upcoming exam, the better I feel. As I read over my notes and review the textbook, the material seems familiar and my impending sense of doom diminishes a little.
But for my Embryology exam, the more I studied, the more I realized I didn’t know anything.
Christmas vacation isn’t a vacation yet.
When I found out that all five of my exams were in a row, right at the beginning of exam period, I couldn’t decide if I was happy, or on the verge of developing a nervous tic.
On the one hand, writing exams sooner means less time to study. Not to mention, when your exams are literally back-to-back, one day after another, it’s harder to divide up your study time properly. How can you study for Biochemistry when Embryology is the day before? And how can you study for Embryology when Molecular biology is the day before that? And how can you study for Molecular biology when… well, you get the point.
On the other hand, all my exams were over in one shot. And my Christmas vacation started a bit earlier than usual.
Except it didn’t. Until my final marks are released tomorrow, I can’t sit back and enjoy my vacation.
I’m stuck in post-exam purgatory.
-Photo courtesy of alancleaver_2000
Students’ Union seeks to break Guinness record for largest water balloon fight.
Academics love to throw numbers around, so here’s one: 3927.
Believe it or not, that’s the number of participants in the world’s largest water balloon fight, and that’s the number that the Students’ Union at Cape Breton University is trying to beat this Sunday. Am I the only one who thought that number would be higher?
Anyway, I like events like this one because they are simultaneously goofy and serious, and although the event was originally scheduled for Frosh week, I think the October date is better. October is the time when the initial rush of excitement over the new academic year has abated and the warmth and richness of the December holiday season is still too far off to serve as a motivator. New students especially have, by early October, developed a sense of just how tough university can be and will be feeling the stress that comes when you realize that if you don’t work hard, you might actually fail at this. So October is a great time to let off some steam.
Or, in this case, condensed steam. Inside a balloon. Thrown at your head.
I mean, I am excited. Or I was. Abject fear has been slowly overtaking excited as my dominant pre-law school emotion.
Blogging might be light in the next two or three weeks as I enter what the French call le panic mode.* For one thing, I’m departing Edmonton by car for Victoria in slightly more than a week and I have packed … (looks around apartment) zero things.
So that constitutes, rough estimate, about 20 per cent of my stress. The rest resides in this little knot in my stomach that explodes into full-body terrors, usually right after someone says something like “School starts so soon! Are you excited?”
I mean, I am excited. Or I was. Abject fear has been slowly overtaking excited as my dominant pre-law school emotion as orientation day approaches. This is normal, probably, but it’s not enjoyable.
For example, the other day I was talking with UBC law professor David Duff during which he proffered this little nugget:
“At the end of the day, when students get to law school, they’re all in the same pool. There’s always this phenomenon whereby law students have always been above average and, by definition, half of them are not going to be above average.”
I think I managed to continue talking, but there’s also a definite chance I stopped conversing and devolved into making tiny rodential squeaks as my brain was like “Me. It’s me. I’m totally going to be below average. Oh my God. What am I doing? I’m going to spend $–,— just to fail and I’m going to have to move in to my parents’ basement and live there for all eternity waaaahhhhhhhhh.”
I’m sure I felt this way as a 17-year-old heading across four provinces to start my undergraduate degree, but I don’t remember, because in my own mind I can fold the space-time continuum so that 17-year-old me is also 25-year-old me who is imbued with the knowledge that undergrad was not only completely achievable but amazingly fun and therefore has no fear, and tells 17-year-old me this and we high-five in my memory and retroactively erase all the fear and doubt I had eight years ago, leaving me only with my current fear and doubt.
Well, that, and Google. If you type something along the lines of “Law school won’t kill me, right?” you can turn up a treasure trove of living, breathing current-and-former law students willing to help out with friendly advice. Some of my favourites are here, here, here and here.
Also, advice is also welcome in the comments section. For the meantime, I’m going to start packing … or curl up in the couch in the fetal position. TBD.
*La mode panique? That can’t be right, because I think that means the panic fashion. Oh, small town Alberta high school French. You have forsaken me.
Take a deep breath and keep things in perspective.
Mid-terms this week have seen a surge in half-joking threats from myself and my friends to drop out of school to pursue a lifestyle that is more fulfilling and true to our passions. It’s easy to justify dropping out: the longer you stay in academia, the more deeply entrenched you become in the system, the more investments in time and money you make, the harder it is to take a year or two to go live in a communal hippie utopia on the beaches of Thailand or to become a ski bum in Whistler. University, on the other hand, will always be here to return to.
However appealing it may be to ditch school in favor of an alternative way of life, most of us, including myself, have already bought in to the system to such an extent that we won’t so readily follow through on our stress-induced daydreams. Until that changes, I find that one way to keep things in perspective and beat back the stress so inevitably associated with soul-destroying examinations is to meditate.
To take even five minutes a day to try and clear your mind from the incessant thoughts that cloud your consciousness can be enormously beneficial for concentration, communication, a healthy perspective, and general well-being and happiness.
To just “be,” free from worries about the future or regrets of the past, is a liberating, if elusive feeling. One way to do this is to just sit and focus on your breath, observing it. Whenever you find that you have been carried away by thought, return your focus to your breath. This is actually enormously challenging — I can rarely get through more than two or three cycles of breath before I find myself swept away by thought once more.
The discovery of how difficult it is to remain “in the moment” and free from thought even for a few seconds is in itself beneficial. When you become aware that you are constantly constructing narratives, plans, worries, regrets, fears, hopes, and so on, it becomes possible to gain control over them. If our constant stream-of-consciousness remains below our consciousness, we are powerless to them.
Especially during exam times when stress levels are high, this awareness and associated control can be very helpful indeed. It can help us recognize absurd stories we are subconsciously telling ourselves that are exacerbating the stress, and correct them.
As the Dalai Lama puts it, it “enables us to see thoughts and emotions as mere thoughts and emotions, rather than as ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ [Then] we begin to have choices. Certain thoughts and emotions are helpful, so we encourage them. Others are not so helpful, so we just let them go.” For instance, worrying and stressing about upcoming tests does not help us perform well – becoming aware of how we are creating those barriers to success allows us to stop creating them altogether.
From my experience, the academic benefits of a clear and conscious mind are just scratching the surface of how meditation is conducive to a better life. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Three years in, I’m starting to think the library isn’t how I want to learn about the world
I was walking to my friend Hannah’s house last night, eating my dinner – a pear in one hand and a samosa in the other. My bag – full of notebooks and texts and power cords – was thudding heavily against my back, but I barely noticed.
My attitude towards hygiene has gotten pretty defeatist (“I’m just going to smell again tomorrow anyways”), my exercise now consists of running for the bus, and I no longer have even the contents for a modest grilled cheese in my fridge.
Sounds like another November, when students everywhere start churning out assignments at a frantic rate, all while gearing up for exams. They have a name for this combination in the spring – “March Madness” – but I’m not sure what they call it in the winter, when we collectively descend into a long, chilly Ottawa winter and a bout of Seasonal Anxiety Disorder.
Nasty November would probably be a good one. Nauseating November. Or how about we just call it what it is – Extremely Crappy and Seemingly Endless November.
Other years, I’ve marked up my agenda and gotten down to work. This year, however, it seems like my head is perpetually somewhere else.
I thought this might have to do with a lack of time management, disorganization, or even just laziness. And I don’t dispute those are probably part of the problem. But I also thought this lack of concentration was unique to me.
But after some really solid whining, I started to hear from a lot of friends – bright, well adjusted kids with well oiled work ethics – that third year was getting to them, too.
A large number of them have dropped a class, conceding that four is just more manageable. One friend told me he’s taking next semester off. Another says he wishes he was. Others are going on co-op, opting for a lighter course load, going on exchange (including me), or just plain dragging their feet.
We developed a couple theories about why this might be. The obvious one is – third year is just harder. Like every year of university, the standards go up – the papers are longer, the readings heavier, the topics more challenging. Naturally, there are some growing pains.
But there might be something else. Call it the half done burnout, if you want. But you can trace it to people like me who, for the first time, are realizing all they’ve seen is school – and are thinking that might not be a good thing.
I went from high school straight into university, and when I moved across the country, like many first years, I was just seventeen.
I had done nothing. My work experience consisted of making lattes, my writing experience was basically a couple book reports. I had good teachers and I worked hard – I had to, to get into university – but I had never stayed in on a weekend night to do school work.
My life experience was even thinner. I had travelled with my family, but I had never been further then summer camp on my own. I had never cooked for myself, nor had a serious boyfriend. And as my first lonely semester proved, I didn’t really know how to make friends.
Going to university was what I wanted, and I don’t think I would have been happy otherwise. I think the idea of working or travelling – veering away from a path which might be stressful, but was at least well marked – scared me more than school ever did.
I have a lot of friends who didn’t go to school immediately. And I have to admit, I thought if they didn’t go right away, they might never go.
Two years later, most of those people have proved me wrong. Many of them are now in school, and unlike a lot of restless 17-year-olds, they actually want to be there. All of them have travelled around the world, they’ve worked and moved out and grown up.
I love school, and I think it’s where I belong at this point in my life. But sometimes I feel like what I’ve seen the most is the commute from my apartment to the library and back. And there’s only so much you can learn from that.
And when I apply for internship after internship, anxiously poring over my transcript or resume and agonizing over my post-grad potential for grad school or even just a journalism job, lately I`ve been one to stop and take a deep breath. I look up from my computer and out of my dining room window, where the late afternoon sunshine is drifting along the weathered bricks of the lovely old houses that line my street. And I think:
What’s the big hurry?
Third year is stressful – but nothing beats age thirteen for sheer madness
I was feeling pretty sorry for myself the other day.
I had come home from an eight hour burst of editing for TV class, and all I could think about was making dinner and going to bed, even while a long list of upcoming assignments was forming in my head. I’m being robbed of my youth, I thought angrily. I should have free time! Time to go for languid bike rides, make that recipe for couscous filled grilled peppers, browse antiquarian book shops for travel novels from the ’50s . . .
Of course, how I really spend my free time is a little different (eating pop tarts on the couch at the student paper office, checking out grad students in the campus pub, forgetting to do my dishes). And I really had no reason to pity myself.
I didn’t come to this conclusion because I recalled that I have healthy friends and family, and I get to live in a nice country and go to university. No, I reached this epiphany because I remembered one thing:
I am no longer in junior high.
No matter how long any day gets – no matter how many times I feel mildly sleepy or stressed, or feel like attending Canadian Foreign Policy lecture is really an inconvenience when I would rather be at home reading Esquire, I don’t think it will ever be as bad as a single day from grades seven to nine.
My high school guidance counsellor once told me that those years can be cruel at the best of times. Who knows what an honest junior high guidance counsellor would have said. Probably that junior high is essentially adolescent hell.
I’m not sure how your junior high years were. I got off pretty lightly myself. I was gangly, had a sweating problem, refused to participate in gym, didn’t like showering, and generally wore a scowl that seemed to express deep and profound revulsion with everyone and everything around me.
I also spent most of my time obsessing over the alarming pop spawn of the British group S Club 7, a clutch of over-managed pre-pubescents called (imaginatively) S Club 8. I knew all of their songs, and once – outside a Roger’s Video and overtaken by an unexplainable bout of hormonal emotion – sang almost their entire debut album in a broken falsetto through lurching sobs.
“She’s horrible, Mum. When is she going to stop?” my sister, Laura, asked from the back seat.
I remember my Mother looking pained. “She’s almost finished, I think. She just needs to get it all out . . .”
At thirteen, I was emotional, delusional, boy crazy, furious, and so lacking a sense of direction I once got lost in my own neighbourhood. Worst of all, everyone else was almost as bad.
Very few people I know had a super time in junior high school. For the most part they all had bowl cuts, were a bit smelly, and were once told over MSN chat that “nobody liked them” by girls who probably went on to become criminals or dental hygienists. Few other careers are really possible for children who succeed socially in junior high.
Life in university isn’t so bad, in comparison. No one makes fun of my clothes, I don’t have to take math, and it’s full of other people who were dorky at thirteen. People hold the door for you, and birthday party invitations aren’t as controversial as they once were.
Since then I’ve been feeling pretty good. Yup, it’s that time of year – everyone is starting to get a little sleep and shower deprived, and I seem to spend at least ten minutes daily walking in panicked circles, flipping frantically through my agenda, and moaning loudly.
But I’ll still take third year over age thirteen any day of the week.
Eleven per cent had thoughts of suicide or hurting themselves, half didn’t seek professional help
Stress over grades. Financial worries. Trouble sleeping. Feeling hopeless.
So much for those carefree college days. The vast majority of U.S. college students are feeling stressed these days, and significant numbers are at risk of depression, according to an Associated Press-mtvU poll
Eighty-five per cent of the students reported feeling stress in their daily lives in recent months, with worries about grades, school work, money and relationships the big culprits.
At the same time, 42 per cent said they had felt down, depressed or hopeless several days during the past two weeks, and 13 per cent showed signs of being at risk for at least mild depression, based on the students’ answers to a series of questions that medical practitioners use to diagnose depressive illness.
These students complained of trouble sleeping, having little energy or feeling down or hopeless – and most hadn’t gotten professional help.
Eleven per cent had had thoughts that they’d be better off dead or about hurting themselves.
That’s not just a case of the blues to be shrugged off by taking a break with Facebook or going for a workout.
Kristin Potts, who graduated from Penn State last week with a 4.0 in chemistry and will go on for a master’s, says she’s seen warning signs among fellow classmates.
“I had a couple friends who didn’t come out of their rooms very much,” she said. “I tried my hardest not to be like that, but I definitely saw it.”
At the University of Maryland in College Park, students were sobered by two suicides within two weeks this past semester.
“It was pretty scary,” says Aimee Mayer, a junior studying psychology. She says there’s lots of information and help available for students with mental disorders, but “there’s still a stigma associated with mental health issues and so a lot of people don’t want to go to those services. They feel like they’re less cool or something like that if they go. It’s like a sign of vulnerability.”
Megan Salame, a sophomore studying civil engineering at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., says she’d turn first to her parents if she felt depressed. But she hastened to add, “Depressed – I don’t really like to use that word because it sounds so negative.”
Mental health disorders like depression typically begin relatively early in life, doctors say, and college is a natural time for symptoms to emerge.
The AP-mtvU poll surveyed students at 40 U.S. colleges, exploring the students’ state of mind and the pressures they face, including strains from the tough economy. It found substantial numbers of students with symptoms of depression, many of them failing to receive professional help. Among the poll results:
- Nine per cent of students were at risk of moderate to severe depression. That’s in line with a recent medical study that found seven per cent of young people had depression.
- Almost a quarter of those with a parent who had lost a job during the school year showed signs of at least mild depression, more than twice the percentage of those who hadn’t had a parent lose a job. More than twice as many students whose parents had lost a job said they had seriously considered ending their own life, 13 per cent to five per cent.
- Among those who reported serious symptoms of moderate depression or worse, just over a quarter had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
- More than half of those who reported having seriously considered suicide at some point in the previous year had not received any treatment or counseling.
- Just a third of those with moderate symptoms of depression or worse had received any support or treatment from a counselor or mental health professional since starting college.
- Nearly half of those diagnosed with at least moderate symptoms weren’t familiar with counselling resources on campus.
Anne Marie Albano, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, said college is a “tender age” developmentally, a period when young adults start taking responsibility for their lives. They’re selecting careers, moving toward financial independence, establishing long-term relationships, perhaps marrying, having children.
The most troubling thing coming out of the AP-mtvU poll and other studies of young adults dealing with depression, she said, is that “they don’t get help” at a time when they’re just venturing off on their own.
“They have to learn to become their own monitors about their mental health and yet they have no training to do that,” she said.
Alison Malmon, whose older brother, Brian, committed suicide when she was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, decided to do something about it. After searching unsuccessfully for a group that she could bring to campus that would encourage students to talk about mental health issues and seek help, Malmon created Open Minds. That group has grown into the non-profit Active Minds, with chapters on more than more than 200 campuses.
Malmon, 27, executive director of the non-profit, says students don’t have to worry about how to draw the line between everyday blues and clinical depression.
“You don’t need to have a serious, diagnosable depression to go talk to someone,” she said. “If you feel down or if you feel like you’re not yourself, go talk to somebody about it.”
The AP-mtvU poll found that 84 per cent of students said they’d know where to turn for help if they were in serious emotional distress or thinking about hurting themselves. Most said they’d go first to friends or family. Twenty per cent said they’d try school counselling.
That means it may be up to friends and family to guide students toward professional help where warranted, said Malmon.
Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute for Mental Health, said students need to understand that depression is “a very treatable illness.”
Campus counselling centres are a good resource, he said, although they’re not all set up take care of serious mental illnesses.
“There should be somebody there who could at least assess this, and in some cases offer reassurance that ‘I’m sure you’ll feel better after exams are over,”‘ he said. Serious cases can be referred for treatment, he said – “and treatment works.”
Depressive disorders afflict an estimated 9.5 per cent of adult Americans in a given year, or about 20.9 million people. The median age for onset is 30.
According to the mental health institute, the first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications and medical conditions, such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression. If doctors rule out a medical cause, then they should conduct a psychological evaluation or refer the patient to a mental health professional.
The poll was conducted April 22 to May 4 by Edison Media Research and involved interviews with 2,240 undergraduate students ages 18-24 at four-year colleges. To protect privacy, the schools where the poll was conducted are not being identified, the students who responded were not asked for their names and people interviewed for this story were not part of the survey. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The TV network mtvU is operated by the MTV Networks division of Viacom and available at many colleges. MtvU’s sponsorship of the poll is related to its mental-health campaign “Half of Us,” which it runs with the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to reduce suicide among young people.
- Associated Press writers Ann Sanner in Washington and Genaro Armas in State College, Pa., AP Television Producer Faryl Ury and Multimedia Editor Kevin Vineys contributed to this report.