Macleans has investigated and written about the state of student minds across North America. What they have found is disturbing.
Cornell University has just installed steel mesh nets under seven bridges around their campus. These bridges overlook the gorges that were the sites of three Cornell student suicides in 2010 out of a total of six that year. Their president David J. Skorton acknowledged that these deaths were just “the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere.” Kate Lunau, The Broken Generation, Macleans Sept, 10, 2012.
Ryerson University had a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations last year. The University of Alberta did a survey of 3,000 students about mental and physical health. Macleans posted the highlights (all responses considered the last 12 months):
51.3% felt things were hopeless
87.5% felt overwhelmed by all you had to do
87.1% felt exhausted (not from physical activity)
61.7% felt very lonely
65.6% felt very sad
34.4% felt so depressed that is was difficult to function
52.1% felt overwhelming anxiety
40.7% felt overwhelming anger
57.1% experienced more than average stress
6.8% seriously considered suicide
1.2% attempted suicide
Some reasons suggested by the article:
A very challenging job market with no guarantee of a job after; competition for entrance in universities is stiff, but once there students sometimes experience “a downward mobility” as they are no longer at the top of the class; academic success is so important some resort to taking prescription stimulants to stay focused and awake; heavy debt load; pressure to succeed from home; tendency to want to be a winner in everything they do; inability to handle the unknown; inability to cope with a lack of varied experiences and too much focus placed on academics; insufficient support from schools.
Another article talked about the stigma attached to calling these problems “mental illness” therefore preventing many from coming forward to seek help:
“Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about efforts to improve the services available to students related to their psychological well-being on campuses. University presidents met for a workshop recently, and Queen’s University welcomed a new $1-million chair to study stigma. Now, I am no mental health professional but I do know a few things about universities and have some experience with anxiety and depression. If it were up to me, those trying to improve things on Canadian campuses would keep one crucial principle in mind: be careful how you talk about it.
First, let’s call depression and anxiety something other than “mental illness.” I know that might sound strange and many experts may cringe, but the range of psychological burdens and hurdles is vast, and placing what can be eminently manageable problems in such a huge box with so many other conditions can have unintended negative consequences. Case in point: the term mental illness puts students overwhelmed by workload or having trouble being away from home for the first time in the same category as deranged killers.” Todd Pettigrew, Stop Calling These Kids Mentally Ill, Macleans, Feb 8, 2012.
Paul Tough has written a book, How Children Succeed, and in it he states that student success is less about programming as it is about the ability to handle stress. If a parent/guardian has raised the child (whether rich or poor) with support, love and a sense of personal responsibility, then children arrive in the classroom with the ability to handle stressful situations, concentrate on their work and with the social skills to navigate the system.
Michael Enright on CBC’s The Sunday Edition spoke to Dr Pasi Sahlberg, reform guru Finland’s education system about how their students are allowed to grow and blossom without school until age 7, without standardized testing, homework or competition. They concentrate on the mental health of their students and establish safe, respectful environments for learning. Teachers are educated in a system similar to engineering and medicine and they are a highly respected part of Finish society. Listen here.
What do you think about the state of student minds across North America? Why is this happening? Depression and stress is a big concern in high schools too. What can be done about it?