College Freshmen Report: Students Are Stressed and Depressed

PHOTO Romen Borsellino, a 20-year-old junior at Amherst College, said he is overwhelmed with stress preparing for his graduation into the working world.
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Joel Raneri of Bartonsville, Pa., is a freshman at Syracuse University in upstate New York who has already begun to feel the stress of a 17-credit workload, a job at the campus news station and fraternity rush.

"A lot of times I feel like it's just too much and I need to take a breather," he said. "But there are people who have a much harder work load, and I don't know how they handle it.

"I worry about finding a job," said Raneri, 18, who will major in broadcast journalism. "Everyone says it's a dying industry but I am hoping if I work hard..."

His anxiety coincides with a new report -- the most comprehensive annual survey of full-time college students at four-year colleges -- concluding that the emotional health of college freshmen has dropped to its lowest level in 25 years.

The survey, "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010," was conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute and included 200,000 students. The number of freshmen who said their emotional health was "below average" has risen steadily, according to the report.

Only 52 percent rated themselves as "above average" in emotional health, down from 64 percent in 1985 when the survey began.

Raneri's mother, Debra Raneri, 49, who also attended Syracuse , said, "All I can remember worrying about in college was my class work and when it was due, nothing more.

"I don't think anyone really worried about getting a job after they graduated," she said. "I'd say life in general is more stressful today."

College counselors agree. They report seeing more students who are under stress, depressed and on psychiatric medications; drugs prescribed before the students even arrived on campus.

New York University recently overhauled its mental health services to provide around-the-clock help and relaxation programs after a rash of suicides.

"We acknowledge that college can be a wonderful and exciting time in a young person's life, but it can also be a stressful one because they are having to adjust to new academics, new friends, sometimes a new city and a new living situation," said Zoe Ragouzeos, director of counseling and wellness services at NYU.

That stress is compounded by a bad economy.

"Will they have a job waiting at the other end after spending $60,000 to $80,000 on a college education?" asked Brian Van Brunt, director of counseling at Western Kentucky University and president of the American College Counseling Association.

"They are struggling like no generation before with the question, 'Is college worth it?' It's a bit of a gamble at this point."

Men Less Likely to Seek Help

William Garner, a freshman psychology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., worries about mounting college debt.

"If I had money, I wouldn't necessarily have the stress," the 18-year-old said. "I can't even go buy books for my classes, so I definitely think about money every day."

The survey also noted that 39 percent of women had been frequently overwhelmed, compared with 18 percent of men.

The difference may be because of the stigma attached to going to the health center, according to Nate Cornell, a senior and president of the student body at Connecticut College in New London.

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