College Students Stress— Week of 12/12/22

Every week I will be reviewing a reputable news article and engaging with it from a mental health professional standpoint. These will be short posts following a three segment model: 1. The News=short synopsis of article 2. The View= My initial impression of the article, and the news impact in the mental health world 3. The Reflection= Useful ways to engage with this information/applications to caring for our mental health. These posts will be published 8am on Mondays!

The News: New research/data analysis shows that college students feel the most stress and negative mental health impact at school related to academic performance pressure. A lot of this stress was identified as being related to evaluation of external measures of success. External measures of success refers to the focus on grade point averages, performance on exams or projects, and graduating with honors. Managing academic workload was the second most stressful part of academic pressures, and college preparedness was third.

Here is the referenced article.

The View: Our group practice serves a lot of college communities, so I was not surprised to see these results. It was noteworthy to also see that these findings were consistent regardless of institution selectivity. In my practice I often hear about the academic pressures that college kids face, and how difficult it is to adjust to the college schedules and workload. As a mental health professional, it is really hard to assert justification for the level of stress we (as a society) put on students in the name of life/career preparation. It feels like this justification comes at a pretty steep cost…The trade off of health for a shot at better opportunity? I guess this is congruent with serving the “American dream.”

“Full Focus at a Coffee Shop”- Tim Gouw 2/25/2016

The Reflection: Colleges and Universities have already been well aware of the stressors on students for some time, and have scarce resources for the level of need. Academia is due for a major make-over, or re-evaluation of values, as, both, students and professors feel the major strain of focusing on external measures of success (grades/papers vs published articles/books). The reckoning might have to look like a dramatic decrease in workload, and a shift with the weight put on grades. This would mean that academia will need to exercise enough creativity to measure achievement through more flexible means. I would assume this would have to be a top down approach with institutions needing to find ways to offload work from their professors. The professors would then be able to make time for more personal assessments of their students.

Secondly, a bottom up approach would be to better address students’ mental health more comprehensively at college. I would assume that this would mean more group work models, which haven’t be a primary avenue of support I’ve seen on campuses. Groups that focus on teaching skills from anything to “Study habits (scaffolded to those with learning disabilities, ADHD or other neurodiversity),” “coping skills groups” for managing anxiety, promoting better sleep schedules, “substance use group support,” and peer lead groups. Of course, individual work will still have high demand and need, but not only would group work be able to reach more students, it is also really effective for skills based teaching and negotiating community based stressors. More programs that follow models like this or this could be highly impactful.

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