As college students are preparing to go to school, they are making packing lists:
Phone charger. Check.
Turns out, they are taking more back to school than just tangible items:
The University of Wisconsin system found that almost one-third of the students enrolled in Wisconsin’s state schools experienced clinically significant mental health symptoms over a 12-month period.
A spring 2015 survey of counseling center directors within the UW system showed that while enrollment increased 3 percent from the 2009-2010 school year to the 2014-2015 school year, the counseling centers saw a 27 percent increase in clients. The survey also found that almost 10 percent each year seriously consider suicide and a bit over 1 percent attempt it.
In general, anxiety “has really leapfrogged depression in recent years,” said John Achter, a psychologist and interim associate dean of students at UW-Stout. “Over half of our students report overwhelming anxiety in a given year.”
National statistics aren’t any better. New levels of independence, relationship (both roommate and romantic) struggles, heavy course work, and financial pressures—coupled with a lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and no exercise—leave college students struggling. In an age of helicopter parenting and quick fixes, many have come to expect a struggle-free existence. But that’s not reality in our social media comparison world. That’s why, for many, counseling sessions turn into strategy sessions for students to build and strengthen coping skills.
With the few weeks left before the college students in your life head out, talk to them about the realities they will face and how they can tackle the year head-on.
- Work hard. This is your opportunity to learn new skills, try different classes, and join new groups and clubs. Don’t skate by. Remember, though, you don’t have to be the best; you just need to do your best.
- Rest. While it’s true that what you do matters, it’s also true that stress will wreak havoc on your mind and body. When you have a career, you’ll have hobbies completely unrelated to what earns your paycheck. So do something fun now that’s unrelated to your major. Volunteer. Create memories.
- Be wise. Will you make stupid mistakes? Probably. You might not want to hurt your friends, but you say something dumb anyway. Drinking into oblivion and sleeping through classes or with random people is a waste of your time, money, talents, and body. You’re there to learn, but you don’t have to learn how to live with regret.
- Make smart money choices. That coffee you paid for with a credit card will actually cost you far more with interest if you aren’t paying it off each month. Be self-disciplined with your money.
- Plan, but see where God takes you. Since you were little, everyone has been asking you what you want to be when you grow up. Well, you can plan in college, and yet God might have a completely different course mapped out for you. In fact, most of the people I know are in jobs that are actually unrelated to their major. A history major is now in marketing. An electrical engineer is a financial advisor. Me? I only took one writing course in college. That’s absolutely fine. The experiences you have now add to your knowledge base and give you what you need for the future.
- Go with God. Over and over in the Bible, Jesus says, “Do not fear.” You might be leaving home, but you are not alone. Because Jesus fixed your all-time biggest stress—actually being separated from the heavenly Father—by dying on the cross, he has given you the right to call God “Dad” and to be filled with the peace that passes all understanding. And your college campus needs to know that.
Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. She doesn’t remember off-the-chart stress from back in the day. Except for that one time at 3 A.M. when she finally picked her topic for a persuasive speech that was due at (more than likely) 8 A.M. Okay, maybe that happened more than one time.