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Survey: More college freshmen struggling with their mental health


Survey: More college freshmen struggling with their mental health

By Katie Larsen | Posted - Aug. 23, 2015 at 9:50 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Brittany Jackson earned enough college credit in high school to be considered a sophomore by the time she first set foot on her college campus last year.

Yet after months of difficult classes, trouble connecting with roommates and missing home, Jackson said she felt more than a little stressed out.

"I kind of felt like, why can't I get through this?" Jackson said. "Why did I come here if I can't get through it?"

But Jackson was not the only first-year student to feel the emotional toll of college last year.

According to 2014 Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey published by "The American Freshman," only half of freshmen reported their emotional health as "above average" or "highest 10 percent." This is the lowest percentage in the 50-year history of the survey.

And the students that marked themselves as "frequently" depressed were twice as a likely to show up to class late or sleep through class, according to the survey.

The emotional struggle could be for a number of reasons, including the transition between high school and college schedules, said Jamie Brass, a licensed psychologist for Weber State University.

But according to Rob Davies, the associate director of the University of Utah Counseling Center, only 11 percent of students seeking counseling services last year were freshmen.

"I think there's still something of a stigma that's associated with getting help and saying you need something more," Brass said. "Depending on pressures you receive from outside sources I think that can be very hard, but most often I just don't think they are aware it's available."

Utah State University junior Ryan Jensen is part of a group of students, known as the A-Team, employed by the university to help freshmen transition to college life.

This year, Jensen received training by LuAnn Helms, a licensed psychologist at the university's Counseling and Psychological Services center to help dispel stigmas associated with counseling.

"She (Helms) said that she often heard when people would give tours, they would say, 'This is for crazy people,'" Jensen said. "So she's asked anyone that gives tours on campus that they are aware what the resources at CAPS are."

I think there's still something of a stigma that's associated with getting help and saying you need something more. Depending on pressures you receive from outside sources I think that can be very hard, but most often I just don't think they are aware it's available.

–Jamie Brass, Weber State University psychologist

Face-to-face contact

The survey also showed the amount of time students spend socializing face-to-face is on a decline.

Nearly 38 percent of college freshmen socialized at least 16 hours per week in 1987. By 2014, only 18 percent of freshmen reported spending at least 16 hours per week socializing and 39 percent reported spending no more than five hours per week socializing, according to the survey.

And more freshmen are spending six hours or more a week on social media, jumping from 19 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2014.

But whether social media hurts or helps the emotional health of freshmen depends on when they use it and how they use it, Brass said.

"If they want to feel connected, there are probably friends and family on Facebook or Twitter who they feel connected to, and I would say to stay focused on those relationships," she said. "But they should try to let go of the things that make them feel inadequate. It might not be the best time to look up things on Pinterest that everyone else can do that are very fancy, because they don't have time to learn that."

Getting help

Feeling sad for longer periods of time than usual is not the only sign of depression. Irritability, struggling with food, losing interest in favorite activities and sleep problems could also be signs of depression. A lot of these symptoms can be synonymous with freshmen life, Brass said.

The best thing for a friend or family member to do if they suspect something is wrong is to ask what that person needs, she said. They just may need to "vent." But they could also need counseling services, she said.

"Usually what I'll ask people is, 'Are you are having difficulty coping with things you used to be able to handle better?'" she said. "If that's the case, it might be time for them to talk to someone. They can talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to a counselor and see if there is more that they can do to help themselves."

In order for freshmen to avoid overwhelming stress or to help manage depression, they should take the time for self-care, she said.

Brass also said finding the best way to study and arranging class schedules accordingly can help those on campus reduce stress levels and there are online mental screenings available as well that anyone could benefit from.

"Everybody could probably use a good self-checkup on their mental health during transitional periods of their life," she said.

Katie Larsen is a Deseret News intern and print journalism senior at Utah State University who graduates in December. Email:

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