Wash. U. students more stressed than undergraduates nationally

Statistics from the American college health association National college health assessment, fall 2011

Statistics from the American college health association National college health assessment, fall 2011

“I wasn’t doing as well as I could, and no matter how hard I was trying, I still couldn’t get things going the right way.”

This freshman pre-medical student described his immense struggle to balance academic work and a social life upon entering Washington University—his intense feelings of inadequacy compounded by his parents’ inability to understand his struggles.

“It was a very tough thing to explain to my parents. They obviously want me to do well here academically,” he said. “When I try to tell them that I actually am [working], they ask me ‘why aren’t you seeing the results?’

“Some parents act like they have a crystal ball and know what we are doing here, but they don’t. And I don’t have the courage to tell them.”

After dropping Principles of Biology I halfway through the semester, he is just starting to feel in control again. He was one of approximately 60 students to drop the course between the first and third tests.

Last week, Uncle Joe’s peer counseling held Mental Health Awareness Week to bring to light the significance and frequency of psychological troubles affecting college students both at the University and at schools nationwide.

On Monday, the group hosted a PostSecret event in Ursa’s Fireside, where many students expressed personal struggles similar to the freshman student’s—namely, of incompetence and of loneliness.

“We don’t often have real conversations about the struggle that we go through as Wash. U. students and the struggles of being away from home and the struggle of being in a place where you are expected to be or feel like you need to be perfect. I think it is good to start a dialog about how it is ok to second guess yourself and not be 100 percent happy,” senior Rachael Holley, president of Uncle Joe’s said.

According to the most recent statistics from The American College Health Association 86.1 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by work last year, 81.4 percent felt exhausted—not from physical activity, 30.3 percent felt so depressed it was difficult to function and 6.6 percent seriously considered suicide.

Dr. Tom Brounk, director of Mental Health Services at Student Health Services said that overall, these numbers are actually worse at Washington University, by about 10-15 percent.

“The Wash. U. numbers are generally higher for many of the items. However, I do not think they would be higher compared to other highly selective universities,” Brounk said. “The demands expected of students here and at institutions such as ours come with a lot of pressure and stress. If a student’s coping resources are not parallel to that increase in demand, that’s when you start to see problems.”

Last year, SHS saw about 1150 students come through its counseling service, hundreds of them continuing to receive psychiatric attention, Brounk said.

Holley said Uncle Joe’s provides another option for students who prefer to talk out their problems with peers more able to empathize with their particular difficulties.

“There are different ways people deal with stress or anxiety in their lives. Some are more prone to crying and some are more prone to keeping it within themselves and some even use humor or a bubbly attitude,” she said. “We try to stay on their level and match their behavior to help them feel comfortable expressing themselves however they want to.”

Holley said that the counseling process can be exceedingly difficult on student counselors as well.

“It can definitely be very hard at times, especially if they are talking about something that you have experienced in your life. It is hard to talk about, and it is stressing to see someone dealing with the same problems that you are dealing with,” she said. “When we are training and talking about issues, we make sure to discuss our own emotional reactions. It is important for us to make sure we are healthy because if we are not, we are not going to be very helpful to other people.”

Outside of SHS and Uncle Joe’s, other students have found themselves helping peers who are experiencing psychological difficulties. Resident Advisor and junior Sneha Thakur said she makes a point to listen to her residents’ problems and help however she can.

“I really try to talk to my freshmen and just give them a listening ear and let them vent as much as they want to—and really be a friend for them rather than an adviser,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to have just somebody who will listen who you know has already been through it.”

Thakur said that she herself has gone through a lot of tough times as a student and that few are immune to the struggle.

“It is tough but it is tough on everybody,” she said.

Women’s basketball player and sophomore Lucy Montgomery said that finding a balance between school, sports, friends and sleep is incredibly difficult.

“It is just a vicious cycle. Your body is tired, so you try to push through, but in terms of doing your schoolwork, you are just exhausted,” she said. “Even though we are Division III sports, there is still a lot of pressure at Wash. U. just based on our past [success]. Internally I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and when that isn’t happening, of course you’re going to feel overwhelmed.”

Montgomery said she personally deals with stress by taking advantage of days off and finding other ways to have fun.

“I’ll just try and find little indulgences here or go and get [frozen yogurt], just something to remind myself not to take things so seriously and that like a ‘B’ is ok, a day off from basketball is not going to kill you,” she said. “Every day you have to try and find something that makes you smile.”

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