College students juggle psychological whiplash

by Tabi Hoshmand, Staff Columnist

When thinking about attending college for the first time, most students are met with the initial excitement of getting away from rules, obligations and parents — especially parents. The first month becomes a constant cycle of top ramen and frat parties and there’s no stopping it. What seems like overnight, sleepless nights are met with anxiety for unknown reasons. Maybe it’s caused by the first college exam. But these anxious behaviors become more common for silly things, such as making friends or gaining weight. This becomes all-consuming and next thing you know, anxiety attacks are normal and bouts of sadness come and go.

Studies show in the past 15 years depression has doubled and suicide tripled, with a relevant increase among college students. Lack of preparedness among new students and a sudden change in environment have shown to increase anxiety and depression in college students.

College comes with a unique amount of stressors. There’s a new lifestyle, new roommates and new friends. The students who can’t handle these changes are more likely to struggle and more susceptible to depression and anxiety. It’s this abundance of new experiences that can be overwhelming and in turn, increase anxious thoughts and behaviors. College is foreign to a lot of students and hardly most are prepared for it.

College also influences a student’s identity, and when students enter a new environment, they’re disoriented and feel a loss of their sense of self, which also contributes to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Students jump into a whole new lifestyle only thinking about the exciting aspects. Because of this, new students aren’t prepared to understand how difficult these changes really are. Most of these students transition from parents guiding their days and when that guidance no longer there, it’s shocking.

In a study conducted by University of California, Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute, the number of freshmen who said their emotional health was “below average” has risen steadily. Even college counselors agree and report seeing more students stressed, depressed or on psychiatric medications even before entering college.

With this constant rise in mental health issues, there’s sure to be a reason why. The emotional health of college freshmen has dropped to its lowest level in 25 years. How can we steer away from these numbers?

Students are becoming less prepared to handle the real world during their constant focus on getting into college. The stress to get into college lays the foundation for how the experience might be for students. Just the fact that all of high school is spent preparing students for college, students are always stressed out — but in a different way. There needs to be a change in the way the transition between high school and college is handled.

But apart from the change in environment for freshmen, for graduating seniors the stress turns into questions of employment and debt. These thoughts can lead to students losing their sense of self and can also lead to poor decisions, such as drinking and doing drugs to escape the anxiety and sadness. Students need to have their goals and dreams in mind when dealing with the stress of college. There needs to be motivation for them to get through these obstacles.

Truth is, the stress of college won’t go away anytime soon, but anxiety and depression levels have increased at a rate that needs to be reversed. The transition into college and through graduation may be hard, but there needs to be more resources available. Just because the numbers are rising doesn’t mean we’re helpless. Support systems and a good group of friends doesn’t magically appear during the first semester, so there needs to be more encouraging ways to de-stress.