Sunlight streams through the large window revealing the light coat of dust that has settled over the books on the upper shelves. Outside, the golden leaves fall to the ground. Groups of students walk along the university’s concrete paths, laughing lightheartedly. It’s peaceful. It’s joyful.
In the Mikkelsen Library, however, a different story is unwinding. There is no laughter here. Instead, the quiet clicking of laptop keys and the occasional cough that sounds more like a lion’s roar in the still silence of the building fill the library. The air is thick with stress. Many students look sleep deprived, others confused,
Sophomore Katherine Gladitsch sits at one of the large library tables with her eyes jumping between her books, notepad and computer screen. At one point, she sighs and murmurs under her breath: “This class is going to kill me.”
Gladitsch wants to be outside, but the 15-page paper she is trying to write is just too large to ignore.
“I just have way too much work to do and I want to get at least three hours of sleep tonight,” Gladitsch said.
Students on all college campuses feel anxious when midterms and finals roll around, but many insist that even the daily stress which comes with university life is far too much.
According to the National College Health Assessment, which examined data from 125,000 students across more than 150 colleges and universities, a third of university students suffered from depression and almost half have experienced overwhelming anxiety in 2013.
The Center for Collegiate Mental Health reported that around 30 percent of students who have sought help for mental health issues had seriously considered attempting suicide at some point in their lives, up from 24 percent in 2010.
“I’m in a constant state of stress and anxiety,” sophomore Carol Bonham said. “I feel like I’m behind even if I know that I’m not.”
Students express concerns mostly over academic performance, pressure to succeed and post-graduation plans as reported by the Journal of Affective Disorders in March 2015.
“It seems like our lives are more uncertain after college than they used to be,” sophomore Cassie Knickrehm said. “You can work so hard and spend so much time and money on the degree, and still not be able to get a decent job with a livable wage.”
These concerns affect students in most universities, including Augustana, despite the 98 percent job placement that the university claims.
Some think that the statistics and numerous Twitter accounts devoted to portraying the awful life of the college student, like @CollegeStudent and @CollegeProblems, are a product of students being more vocal, rather than actually being under more stress than in the past.
Stan Christopherson ’67 believes that students today are not under more stress than he and his classmates were 50 years ago.
“Today, kids are worried about tests and the economy and jobs,” Christopherson said. “Back when I was in school we had to worry about getting drafted and going to Vietnam, the assassinations of President Kennedy or Malcolm X and race riots happening around the country.”
A survey from UCLA in 2015, based on the responses of over 153,000 freshmen at 227 different colleges and universities, found that nearly 12 percent of students rated their emotional well-being as below average compared with 3.5 percent in 1985. The survey also found a 20 percent increase in students seeking help for anxiety or depression.
“I’ve talked to my grandfather about when he went to college, and he doesn’t really talk about his stress from school,” Knickrehm said. “I’m sure students in the past felt stress too, but I also think that students now have a lot more stress for the future than students in the past had.”
Debate still surrounds the question of whether the change in the college environment, the surge in counseling services that report these statistics or the diminishing stigma surrounding mental health issues caused an increase in students experiencing overwhelming stress or mental illnesses —such as anxiety disorders and depression.
If you or anyone you know is becoming overwhelmed and experiencing mental illness or suicidal thoughts, please contact the Augustana Helpline at 605-274-5548 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.