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