Studies shows people more stressed as students than at other stages of life due to work, relationships

| News Editor

Stress levels among college students are higher than those of people at any other stage of life, a poll has found.
In addition, the poll found that college students have a higher predisposition toward experiencing depression sometime during their four years at college.

According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, stresses from the daily routine of school and life keep 68 percent of students awake at night, with 20 percent of them at least once a week.

“Stress levels for college students are so high because of the pressure to perform well,” said Eleatha Surratt, a staff psychiatrist at Student Health Services (SHS). “Performance is tied to subsequent ability to obtain better post-baccalaureate employment or educational programs.”
With the bad economy, many students fear an uncertain financial future.

“With the current economic situation, there is the added pressure of a tighter job market, with lower starting salaries for graduates,” Surratt said.
A 2006 survey conducted by the College Health Association found that 94 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by all that they had to do.

In 2007, Washington University students responded similarly in a survey, according to Thomas Brounk, chief of mental health services at SHS.

Sixty-five percent felt overwhelmed one to 10 times and another 28 percent felt overwhelmed 11 times or more, the survey found.
Another national survey in 2006 found that 44 percent of college students reported having felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. Nearly

40 percent of Washington University students responded in the University survey that their level of depression made it difficult to function, according to Brounk.

The reasons for stress among college students are variable.

“Triggers for stress and depression can be complex and individualized,” Surratt said. “Academic workload, social issues involving friends, roommates, dating and extracurricular activities, family concerns and financial concerns could all trigger stress and depression.”
Brounk said not all stress is bad.

“We all experience varying levels of stress on a day-to-day basis,” Brounk said. “We need appropriate levels of stress in order to accomplish goals, accomplish tasks or solve problems. Whenever our ability to cope with difficulties or problems is ineffective or simply overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, varying levels of negative stress can be a natural consequence.”

Much of the stress results from a chronic lack of sleep. Most professionals suggest that college students get a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. But only 30 percent of those surveyed in the Adolescent Health Journal study reported sleeping for at least eight hours a night.

According to an article that appeared in Medical News Today, 20 percent of students stay up all night at least once a month and 35 percent stay up until 3 a.m. at least once a week. Twelve percent of those who sleep poorly miss class at least three times a month or fall asleep during class.

According to Surratt, some students are genetically predisposed to experiencing stress and suffering from depression.

“Biologic factors, including genetics and family history, can predispose students to depression, as can inadequate coping skills,” Surratt said.

While many students here believe that those attending the University suffer from stress and depression at higher rates than students at peer universities, according to SHS, Washington University students do not display more depression than students at other colleges.

The University takes many precautions to ensure that those who experience stress and depression are referred to the proper authorities.

“All new students are triaged, so that urgent or emergent matters are identified promptly,” Surratt said. “Some major colleges only provide a very limited number of mental health sessions over a student’s four-year college stat, but Wash. U. provides ample visits per academic year, with no charge at all for the first eight of these sessions. So, it is easy for students to access mental health services at Wash. U.”

According to Brounk, the number of visits to the counseling service at SHS has increased when compared with previous years.

“This [increase in visits to SHS’s Mental Health Services] is not necessarily a negative trend, as it may signal that there is less of a stigma to taking care of the emotional side to one’s health,” he said.

Other resources are available to students looking to alleviate stress on campus.

Stressbusters is a service offered through SHS in which trained undergraduates provide free back massages to students.

According to sophomore Abhi Kapuria, a member of Stressbusters, the program was created to provide a way for students to relax.

“Students who get massages are really tensed up, and they feel that they have a lot of things building up at once,” Kapuria said. “They tend to be more stressed than they realize. They feel a lot more relaxed afterward.”

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