The Louisville Cardinal

Freshman emotional health down

By Baylee Pulliam

Stress – it’s not entirely uncommon on college campuses. It’s written all over students’ faces as they rifle through their book bags, leaf through notes and cram for that really tough final exam. And, apparently, it’s getting worse.

A recent study released by the University of California, Los Angeles found that the current college freshman class is less emotionally healthy than their predecessors were in 2009.

The findings are based on UCLA’s national survey of first-year undergraduates, which was recently published in “The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2010.” The survey takes into account the self-reported stress, ambition, anxiety, depression and other emotional health factors of incoming college freshmen in the United States.

In 2009, 55.3 percent of incoming freshmen reported their emotional health to be either good or above average. In 2010, that percentage dropped to 51.9 percent. This marks the lowest percentage of students reporting good or above average emotional health since the survey was first conducted in 1985.

But do these numbers apply to the University of Louisville’s current freshman class? Darrin Frank, a freshman undecided major, said he feels the emotional strain.

“I’m extremely stressed,” said Frank. “My high school didn’t do a great job of preparing me for the scheduling and studying you have to do in college.”

According to Kathy Pendleton, director of the U of L Counseling Center, studying and scheduling are common denominators for stressed students.

“For many, a major problem is having to make decisions,” said Pendleton. “They have to learn to schedule time for studying, and do all of the other things they need to do. It can be overwhelming.”

The results of the UCLA survey seem to agree. According to the study, 29.1 percent of students surveyed said that they frequently felt overwhelmed by all that they had to do.

According to some freshmen, scheduling time to study, as well as spending time with friends, is a major factor. An active social life can be stressful because it can have adverse effects on students’ academic grade point average

“First semester, we were new and we were all supposed to go out and make friends,” said Bruce Parsons, a freshman history major. “The problem is, focusing on your social life gets in the way of studying and your grades suffer. Now I’m just struggling to catch up.”

If the UCLA survey’s results are any indication, grades are a big reason for students’ emotional distress. Of the students surveyed, 75.8 percent rated their own personal drive to achieve to be in the 90th percentile.

Some have speculated that the increased reported academic ambition of freshmen may be directly correlated to the rising costs associated with college.

“Money is an issue,” said Frank. “School and books are pretty expensive. It’s a huge stress.”

The United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences has noted that the average cost of tuition at a four-year public university has increased by $10,874 since 1980.  Some students may feel pressured to perform well in order to get the most for their money.

Despite the heavy stress this year’s freshmen place on themselves, Pendleton said that traffic at the U of L Counseling Center has not increased since last year.

However, many students who need help may not be getting it. The UCLA survey results indicated that students who needed counseling were only 11.2 percent more likely to seek it than their emotionally healthy peers.

According to the National Center of Counseling Center Directors, the number of students utilizing counseling services is further divided by gender, race and sexual preference.

“95 percent of directors report that female students tend to overutilize their services, relative to their campus percentage, while the vast majority of directors state that men, international students, African American students and sexual minorities tend to underutilize counseling services,” reads a 2010 survey conducted by the National Center of Counseling Center Directors.

According to the National Center of Counseling Center Directors survey, 65 percent of all students who sought counseling were female. Only 35 percent were male.

While these and other factors may prevent a student from seeking counseling for emotional distress, students are encouraged to seek help if they need it.