Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why Are So Many College Students Suffering Anxiety?

More than a few American college students are suffering from anxiety. One might consider it a mental health issue, but perhaps it is more.

First, imagine that it’s about mental health.

A group of students that was brought up on a steady diet of unearned praise is lost and adrift, suffering from anxiety.

The students do not know how to cope. They do not know how to focus and concentrate. They are terrified of failure, because they were never told that they were not good enough and never learned how to deal with it. They never learned how to work hard and to work effectively. They lack resilience. They are filling up the offices of campus counselors.

The New York Times has the story:

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling.

As students finish a college year during which these cases continued to spike, the consensus among therapists is that treating anxiety has become an enormous challenge for campus mental health centers.

Nearly one in six was diagnosed. How many more were not diagnosed?

Why is this happening? The experts offer expert explanations:

Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.

“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”

Surely their upbringing matters, but they also live in a world where they are pressured to enjoy all aspects of the college experience fully.

Curiously, over 20% of Harvard undergraduates did not have sex during their four years at the school.

Without knowing anything more, ask yourself whether these were the overachievers or the underachievers? Did this group flock to the counseling service or were they holed up in the library? Were they the most popular kids, the kids who majored in partying?

One hesitates to blame everything on social media, but apparently the knowledge that other students are indulging in bacchanalian revelry bothers many students who are not.

The Times writes:

Social media is a gnawing, roiling constant. As students see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences, the inevitable comparisons erode their self-esteem. The popular term is “FOMO” — fear of missing out.

One cannot, on principle, doubt the value of the Times analysis.

And yet, ask yourself the question that any good therapist would attempt to ascertain: if a patient is anxious, there might be a real reason for it.

Could it be that these students are not optimistic about their future because they have very little reason for optimism? Do they understand that America is in decline? Do they know that they are not being prepared to compete against their counterparts in other parts of the world?

Unless the world is about to redefine competition to give extra credit for decadence, that is.

Beyond that, are these students proud of their country? Are they proud to belong to this country?

If the nation’s heroes are forgotten while we obsess about its villains, if its proudest achievements are diminished by an obsessive emphasis on the bad, children will not be allowed to feel pride in their country and pride in themselves.

Students who have been brought up on a steady diet of criticism, who have learned to be anguished about all of the ills America is visiting on its citizens and the world, will very likely feel demoralized.

Students who learn in school and in the media that America is a bad country, filled with people who harbor the worst criminal intentions—like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, lookism, ageism—are not going to feel very much pride, in their country or in themselves. And they are not going to feel very optimistic about the future.

If that is the problem, then anxiety is the correct emotional response. 


Ares Olympus said...

re: Beyond that, are these students proud of their country? Are they proud to belong to this country?

Really, 20% of students are anxious because they don't have enough patriotism?!

It's sort of funny the Left has grabbed onto "self-esteem" of individualism as a protective trait, while the Right has grabbed onto "collective-esteem" of patriotism in the same way.

Unless of course we're talking economics, and then we must reverse this and say "You didn't built it" versus "money as free speech."

Okay, carry on! We'll solve this yet!

More seriously, social media looks like an excellent scapegoat in this case, between "fear of missing out" and "infinite distract", combined they allow bad habits to form, and remove all "quiet time" like "mindfulness" that might help students slow down enough to assess their bad choices. Oops, I forgot that's a selfish waste of time, according to yesterday's blog.

This morning I heard part of an interview with Kelly McGonigal on her new book "The upside of stress", and she seemed pretty on-the-ball on the subject.
Now, however, she argues that it's the mindset and secondary responses that can do the most damage. "What seems to beget more harm is trying to avoid or suppress stress," McGonigal said. People often turn to alcohol, comfort foods or binge-watching TV as a way to reduce stress, she said, when really those actions can be more harmful than the original feeling.

Meanwhile, appropriately-handled stress can actually be healthy. "There's evidence that people who have experienced some adversity or suffering are healthier or happier ... when you take a lifetime perspective," she said. "There are ways that stress can be beneficial even when that stress is also distressing."

She mentioned the idea of a "challenge" response that motivates us to solve problems as the good way, and also the "tend and befriend" approach of gathering support, although didn't say its more a feminine response.

Leo G said...

And that is why I brought my boys up like it was the fifties. They are now poised to rule their peers!


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The anxiety is related to the glowing box. It's everywhere. If a small child gets upset, edgy or needs to be sedated, they get put in front of the television. Instantly! It's illuminated hypnosis through pixels. Children are constantly going from one soccer game or enrichment program to the next. Elementary school kids have hours of homework. Every parent looks at their above-average child athlete as a potential pro. They are scrutinized in one year beyond what anyone over 30 was ever scrutinized in their lives. Their phones have trackers. Social media is a favorite pastime of the antisocial. Harvard is a pressure-cooker. The university turns away many students with perfect SATs and all-A high school transcripts on the AP track. It's nuts. Children are their parents' favorite television program, and they watch all the time... the child is constantly programmed to provide their parents with talking points about how great the kid is. They're accessories that have to earn some ROI after all those years in college. It's quite disturbing.

And the anxiety about America is because of decades of unchecked postmodern drivel that endlessly criticizes everything, and leaves nothing of creativity, beauty or value in its wake. Today's academia is mostly a refuge for fringe malcontents that couldn't survive a real job in the real America they so despise. Tenure is a pall and rot on the modern university. Who needs to be protected from mind control and censorship when university professors all think the same way? It's not a place to open minds, they're taught in secular Leftist seminaries.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I'll say one more thing... I teach at one of the most outstanding art colleges in the world. And what this article says matches my experience... in technicolor. These young adults are terrified of life because they haven't experienced it.

Case in point...

My wife is a technical/design recruiter and talked today to a student from the school where I teach about an internship opportunity. They Ended up speaking twice this morning. Both times he was being fed lines in the background from his parents. She said it was awkward. He demanded paid time off... for an internship! I asked my wife what she was going to do. "I'm done with him," she said. "I tried to make a difference for him multiple times in each conversation, and it turns out I wasn't talking to him. His parents were running the show." This "kid" is 22 years old. He doesn't cone from some over-involved, patriarchal immigrant family. His name was the equivalent of "Bobby Smith." An internship with this reputable Fortune 50 corporation would very likely have resulted in a long-term full time career offer for this young man who is educated in a very specialized field in a limited industry. He was the golden boy. He had everything. He had his ticket. My wife gets paid to place him. She wants nothing to do with him now. "What kind of 22 year old really cares about paid vacation on an internship?" she asked me. My experience says she's right. Paid vacation matters to his parents. What a squandered opportunity.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Wow... life for some millennials has become a caricature. I can't imagine this happening in the old days. now perhaps we can call them the good old days.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Yes, Stuart, and in case you hope things might get better, read this WSJ Letter to the Editor from yesterday, referencing Peggy Noonan's similar piece in the previous weekend's Opinion Page:

If you think the college students of today are “snowflakes,” wait until you see what is next. Thanks to all of those helicopter moms who raised snowflakes, we now have the Apache Helicopter Moms who swoop down and fix everything for their children. As an elementary school teacher, I see this on a daily basis. Students aren’t held accountable for anything, and parents are continually making excuses for their behavior. And if a parent is unhappy with the way something is handled in school, they swoop down and attack whomever is involved. What are these parents raising? For the life of me, I can’t think of anything more delicate than a snowflake.

E.O. Gutt

Weddington, N.C.