College Stress-The Orlando Times
The Impact Of Stress On College Students
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
A recent study into mental health and stress conducted by Harvard Medical School revealed that one in four [college] students reported being diagnosed with or treated for a mental health disorder in the prior year.
Mental Health Awareness Month was started in the United States in1949 by Mental Health America (MHA) to raise awareness about mental health and the importance of good mental health for everyone. During the month of May, MHA and other organizations interested in mental health conduct a number of activities which are based on a different theme each year.
In 2019 they are expanding upon last year’s theme of #4Mind4Body and taking it to the next level, to explore the topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.
The U.S Department of Health & Human Services defines mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”
Stress is defined as the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.
“Moderate amounts of stress can actually be motivating and improve performance,” said Lisa Ferdinand, PhD, Florida Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Director for Clinical Services at the University of South Florida Counseling Center. “However, large amounts of stress over long periods of time can lead to poor physical (e.g., illness) and mental health (e.g., anxiety) outcomes. These in turn can lead to lower levels of academic engagement and productivity that may negatively impact a student’s performance.”
Dr. Ferdinand went on to explain that non-traditional students may be balancing demands such as childcare, jobs, and caring for aging parents; students of color may have stressors associated with being at a predominantly White institution including stereotype and other forms of oppression or discrimination; student veterans may have difficulty re-transitioning into civilian life; many students may be experiencing higher levels of stress due to the polarized political climate; and first generation students may have a more difficult time navigating the college experience without parents to mentor them through the process.
“Range of factors including academic demands, interpersonal stressors, increased levels of responsibility and independence, and social media leading to social comparisons to other students,” she said.
The 2017 study went on to reveal that more than 20 percent of students reported experiencing six or more stressful life events in the last year. Stress exposure was strongly associated with mental health diagnoses, self-harm and suicidality.
Mental health issues may be underreported for racial or ethnic minorities. Black students showed a lower likelihood of reporting all outcomes compared to white students, according to the study.
To combat this ever-growing problem, campuses across the country are implementing various events and initiatives to help students manage their stress.
For example, The University of Central Florida has multiple departments on campus including counseling and psychological services, psychiatry, and nutrition-based help. Additionally, they have rec and wellness which promotes physical activity as being effective in treating stress.
“We work together to create different events and initiatives on campus to one make sure students are aware of the services and to educate students around stress and how to manage stress,” said Teresa Michaelson, Associate Director, UCF’s Counseling & Psychological Services.
One of the big initiatives UCF is currently working on involves the UCF Mobile App. There’s going to be an icon for students to check out their ‘ health and wellness app’ so if they click on that they can sign up for notifications and learn more about upcoming events involving stress reduction and wellness.
“Identify how you experience stress (Mentally? Physiologically? Emotionally?) and learn to recognize the symptoms early so that you use can implement relevant strategies,” advised USF’s Dr. Ferdinand.
“Separate factors that are out of your control vs. those that are in your control and focus most of your resources (time, energy, etc.) on addressing things that are in your control to change.”
She went on to advise that students learn strategies to manage the way they experience stress, schedule “worry time” to work through your feelings, use good time management to reduce procrastination and increase self-care behaviors.
“I think it’s important for students to know that stress is going to exist,” said Michaelson. “You are going to experience it but the trick is learning how to manage it.”