High Levels of Stress/Depression with Incoming College Kids

Teenager Girl Worried And Crying OutdoorsThe annual snapshot of incoming college freshmen was recently published (“The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014” also covered in a New York Times article) and provides yet more data indicating that our teens are feeling high and increasing levels of stress and depression in the face of significant academic expectations and life challenges.

The survey, which has been run for nearly a half-century by an institute at UCLA, covers a wide range of issues and perspectives relevant to recent high school graduates. The most recent publication showed some concerning trends:

  • Only 50.7% indicated they had good emotional health – the lowest level ever recorded
  • Over a third of respondents (34.6%) “felt overwhelmed” by the many expectations placed on them – academic or otherwise
  • Nearly 10% of students reported frequently feeling depressed over the previous year – their senior year in high school – a much higher rate than reported just 5 years ago (6.1%)
    • This is a higher rate of depression than seen across the US generally
  • Additionally, students with disabilities or chronic diseases – such as ADHD, learning disabilities, diabetes or autoimmune conditions – report much higher rates of rates of depression (15.5% to 22.4%)

Why does this matter? Well, the report further demonstrated that students who had suffered from frequent bouts of depression were less likely to be engaged in school – more of them come late to class or fall asleep during lectures and fewer reported studying or working on projects with classmates – all behaviors that can lead to a negative spiral in school. Furthermore, suicide is the third leading cause of death for college-age students.

However, as a mother of a frequently overwhelmed and stressed-out seventh-grader, the real concern for me is how long have these kids been feeling this way – and what can we do to improve this?? My son often has so much homework that he skimps on sleep and becomes down and moody when under particular pressure. I’ve sometimes taken to forcing him to go to bed and hand assignments in late for easier classes, just to better juggle the workload. But I know the situation is only going to get worse as he advances to higher grades.

What are your concerns about the pressures on our youth – and what strategies are you trying to help address the issue? We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


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  1. […] Note: Last Friday we published a post about the high levels of stress and depression felt by incoming college students. It cited the results of a nationwide survey and highlighted an alarming trend: our teens are […]

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