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more articles by Duplan, Auguste L. , MD  |  author's bio

The Stress of College

The Stress of College

by Auguste Duplan, MD


As the City of Ithaca and Cornell University consider the recently erected barriers on bridges over local gorges, it is also helpful to consider the stress of college and the ways in which we can all help students in distress.


We find that students typically experience the highest levels of stress right after they start the school year and then again around finals. If a student is not coping well with the pressures of college life they often become symptomatic around these particular times.


What are the common causes of stress for college students?

The transition from high school to college can be especially stressful because students are away from home, many of them for the first time. They are often in another state, without ready access to their support network of family and friends. They are immediately immersed in a competitive, academic environment and they are making many choices and adjustments at once.


People also go to college at many ages, sometimes as young as 15 or 16. While these young students are the intellectual equals of their classmates, they are emotionally younger, which makes coping even harder for them.


What are the symptoms of a student in distress?

There is no one manifestation of emotional distress; however, there are some common behaviors that indicate a student is struggling. They include: repeated visits to the Emergency Department for intoxication; social isolation; missing classes; poor personal hygiene; a lack of interest in favorite activities; and inappropriate interactions with other students or faculty. Any kind of emotional meltdown can be considered a sign that someone is in trouble.


How can be done to help?

If you have concerns about a friend in the dorm or a student in your classroom, call the Student Health Center or Cayuga Medical Center, and voice your concerns to the staff. Don’t be afraid to get help for someone: It is better to overreact, even if the person you are helping becomes upset with you.


Should I go to the ED with the person?

Yes, it is helpful for you to go along for two reasons. First, sometimes when students go to the ED for help, they minimize their problems once they are there. Second, by going with your friend to the ED, your observations can help the ED and mental health staff members understand the concerns that brought the student to the hospital.


What should I do if my friend confides in me about his troubles but asks me not to tell anyone else?

Don’t make the promise to your friend that you won’t tell anyone else about suicidal or homicidal intent because you really do need to report it to someone who can help. You may feel badly about not keeping the secret but you will feel a whole lot worse if your friend hurts himself or others. Don’t try to be a therapist to your troubled friend or take on that role, because you are not trained. Convince your friend to get some professional help. And if you cannot convince the person, then call someone else.


At Cayuga Medical Center, we deal with the whole gamut of psychiatric problems in our Emergency Department and Behavioral Services Department. To learn more about local hospital mental health services, look for part 2 of this column in two weeks, by Cayuga Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Henry Gerson.


Dr. Duplan is a board-certified psychiatrist on staff in the Adolescent Behavioral Services Unit at Cayuga Medical Center. He did his fellowship training in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital—Weill Medical College of Cornell University. For more information, call Cayuga Medical Center 607-274-4011.



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