As University students, we’re all used to deadlines, projects, midterms and finals. We’ve seen what the UGLi looks like at three in the morning, we understand that coffee is truly the liquid of life and we know that practice exams are essentially pointless because the real ones are always harder. Simply put, we have a lot on our plate.
Though many students feel as though they are alone in their plight, according to the annual National College Health Assessment — conducted by the American College Health Association — about 86 percent of students also feel overwhelmed by the pressures of college life.
Admittedly, feeling overwhelmed comes with the territory when you go to a competitive university, but the study revealed that students often feel stress from more than just a large course load. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of statistics — nearly 46 percent of students said they felt that things were hopeless at one time or another, 58 percent felt lonely, 31 percent felt depressed to a point where it was difficult to function, 49 percent experienced extreme anxiety, and 6 percent seriously contemplated suicide. I was shocked by these numbers, especially the one concerning suicide. Here at the University, there are about 26,000 undergraduate students. The National College Health Assessment statistics implies that about 1,560 students at one point considered suicide during the past 12 months.
These numbers are taken from a sample population and therefore don’t necessarily represent the distribution of students at the University who suffer from various mental health illnesses. However, this study has been used for the past 10 years as a measuring stick for the health of America’s college students and the results are troubling. With such a large population of students suffering, one can’t help but wonder what brings on these serious mental health issues.
In my experience, there is nothing worse than having to cram for midterms or finals. For some classes, there aren’t enough hours in the day to prepare for the inevitable two hours of hell that each exam entails. Before I read this report, I never thought of my pre-test anxiety as something that could pose a serious threat to my mental well-being. And although I’ve never felt depressed to a point where it affected my ability to function, I can certainly see how a string of bad grades and never ending assignments can pose a serious problem.
Professors, GSIs and the University as a whole don’t intend to cause students stress, but it seems to be an unavoidable result of getting an undergraduate or graduate degree. With that in mind, students have an obligation to look out for their friends and classmates. If you notice a friend acting off or unusually anxious or depressed, please do something. Whether that’s just listening to them vent or helping them get help, you could truly be saving someone’s life. Some students don’t suffer from anxiety over the pressures of school and it’s these students who need to understand the struggles of their classmates and lend a helping hand.
Some have proposed that it’s each university’s responsibility to offer classes about how to study and handle the workload presented by college in order to help students minimize feelings of stress and depression. This is a nice thought, but offering a class about how to study doesn’t necessarily translate into Gaussian plume models or an insightful essay commenting on how Hemingway’s alcohol abuse is evident in his writings.
It’s each student’s responsibility to manage his or her own academic career, but it’s also each student’s responsibility to be there for his or her friends and classmates. Who can understand the pressures of school better than students themselves? A sense of community needs to be there for those who are struggling in their day-to-day lives, so that they have someone to turn to in their times of need. We often pride ourselves as being a part of the Michigan Difference, but one of the biggest differences we can make is for the health and safety of our friends and peers.
Joe Sugiyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org