Why Are College Students
Reporting Record High
Levels of Stress?
By MAIA SZALAVITZ Thursday, January 27, 2011
College students are more stressed out than ever before — at least according to the latest findings of a large, national survey that has been conducted annually for the last 25 years. The survey includes more than 200,000 students attending nearly 300 colleges and asks them to rate how their own mental health stacks up with their classmates' — for example, is it "above average" or in the "highest 10%"?
This somewhat unusual methodology typically results in the statistical Lake Woebegon effect in which most people tend to overestimate themselves in relation to others (it refers to the fictional Lake Woebegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average"). But the most recent results indicate that fewer and fewer freshmen feel like they are in top form in terms of coping with stress.
A quarter century ago, nearly 70% of freshmen put themselves in the top 10% of mentally stable people in their class; today only 52% rate themselves that highly, down 3 points since last year. Students' self-esteem, however, is still robust: a full 71% of freshmen put themselves in the top 10% in terms of academic abilities.
It's hard to know what these numbers actually mean: obviously, it's not mathematically possible for 52% or 71% of people to be in the top 10% of anything. And, as I explored in this post earlier today, people's attempts to compare themselves with others are skewed in various ways. Nevertheless, the finding is in line with previous research, which found that almost half of all college students who seek counseling now have a major mental illness. That's more than double the rate seen 10 years ago.