UCLA study explores cause and effect of college stress

With the emotional health of college freshman at an all-time low, study examines the factors that add to college stress.

Harmony Wheeler, Writer

The emotional health of college freshmen was at it lowest in 2010, according to a recently released University of California Los Angeles study.

Conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the survey was part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program. Over 200,000 freshmen from just under 300 colleges were surveyed for the study, which found that only 51.9 percent of those surveyed ranked themselves among the top emotionally healthy students in their class, compared to the 63.6 percent of students who were surveyed 25 years ago.

Mental health awareness needed

“It is an important topic to be aware of, because it could lead to mental and physical symptoms,” director of Student Health Services Kristin Phelps said.

Phelps said such symptoms include headaches, weight gain, chronic digestive disorders, fatigue, increases blood pressure, insomnia, teeth grinding in sleep, general irritability, reoccurring feeling of hopelessness, depression and anxiety and low self esteem.

Dangers of college stress

Sophomore Julie Brown said she believes stress often affects the mental and emotional health of a student.

“[Stress] shuts you down, and when you try do work, you can’t focus,” Brown said.

Brown and sophomore Emily Irwin said they understand that freshman deal with more stress than they were used to in high school.

“There’s a lot more pressure when you’re at college,” Irwin said. “You have to act more responsibly. Now that I’m a sophomore, I know how to handle it.”

Irwin said she still is “insane” during the first few weeks of classes every semester.

The UCLA study also found that female students were less likely to rank themselves with high levels of emotional health than male students, with a 13.2 percentage-point difference.

Job market and economy impacting stress levels

The study also noted the role of a poor economy and high unemployment in student stress levels. It reported that 4.9 percent of students surveyed said their fathers were unemployed and 8.6 percent said their mothers were unemployed.

“There’s a lot more competition today,” Irwin said. “The economy, the lack of jobs.”

Phelps agreed and cited the economy, money concerns, increase in student loans and debts, school responsibilities and extra-curricular activities as possible causes for the rise in stress.

“Students are coming in with less coping skills,” Phelps said.

Technological speed of society unhelpful

West said the fast-paced nature of today’s society may affect students’ stress.

“Technology has gotten more developed,” West said. “People are generally being more productive, efficient. There’s a need to keep up with that. I assume that begins at the college level.”

West also said a lack of relationships in the technological world could lead to more emotional stress, and recommended students stay connected with friends.

Philip Lewis, a staff psychiatrist at the Student Health Center, agreed.

“I believe there is broad agreement on the fact that there has been a steady rise in mental health problems in the college-age population over the past several decades,” Lewis said. “The most probable reason is the steady deterioration of the nuclear family. In the absence of the security engendered by a loving, stable family environment, students find themselves unprepared to face the stresses of academic challenges in a new environment.”

Preparation and time management key

Lewis said the academic challenges are equally real.

“High school does little to prepare many for the demands of college-level courses,” Lewis said. “This is undoubtedly a stress-producing factor.”

West said that the degree of stress depends on how students go about handling course work.

“[But] the biggest concern, [especially on a Christian campus], is spiritual health,” West said.

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