If college life was like its depiction in movies or TV shows, my first two semesters at Temple would have involved daily parties in surprisingly well-kept frat houses, classmates with perfect skin and little-to-no stress about schoolwork.
The reality of college life is far from what the movies portray. For some students, even the realistic expectations of college are difficult to meet, according to the results of an annual survey designed to measure the “norms” of American college freshmen experiences.
The 2014 American Freshman Survey conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles reported the lowest level of self-rated emotional health among students since the survey was first administered.
Dr. Donald A. Hantula, an associate professor in the department of psychology, told me about factors that cause stress for college freshmen.
“It depends on a student’s situation. For some students, it’s the first time they’ve lived away from home where others are still living at home,” Hantula said. “Depending on the preparation [students] had from high school, the workload can either be absolutely fine to completely overwhelming … you have to manage your own time unlike high school.”
All of these factors can put stress on students, making the transition harder and causing a lower level of emotional health. Students’ connection through social media can amplify negative feelings.
“It is not the social medium itself that is to blame for depression but the feelings that it might trigger, particularly Facebook envy … Our findings point to the important factor of how communication platforms and individual dispositions intersect,” researchers at the University of Missouri wrote in the journal Computers on Human Behaviors in February 2015. “Facebook envy … describes the envy felt after spending time consuming others’ personal information on Facebook.”
Samantha Rogers is a junior psychology major and president of Active Minds, a club dedicated to eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. She agreed Facebook and other social media platforms provide a forum for unhealthy comparison amongst peers and friends.
“I think on one side of things [social media is] really helpful in keeping people connected with their old support systems … while also helping them make new ones,” she said. “I also think of it as viewing other people’s highlight reels. Most of the things that go on [social media] are the best things that people are experiencing.”
Hantula thinks social media users comparing themselves to others is just a continuation of an old human tradition.
“We can compare without social media, for god’s sake. We are constantly comparing ourselves to one another,” he said. “Almost any sentient being is looking at other members of their species and making comparisons. Social media is just another way to do that.”
I think the wide accessibility of social mediums makes the negative effects more damaging, and can’t truly tell of the stress and doubt a college freshman feels in their first few weeks of independence.
Snapchat isn’t used to capture the feelings of loneliness one may feel before finding a good group of friends. No one tweets about how overwhelming homesickness can be. By watching the “highlight reels” of their friends’ lives at college, struggling students may think they are completely alone, making it difficult for some to reach out.
Temple has resources for students struggling with mental health, like Tuttleman Counseling Services, which has individual and group counseling. The Self-Help Center is run by senior psychology students and allows students to treat their own symptoms. The Wellness Resource Center also offers immediate attention to students.
At my freshman orientation, I vaguely remember mention of these services. They wanted us to know options were available to us if we asked for it, however, that is all the talk consisted of.
With a growing number of stress factors for young adults, I think freshmen at Temple and all other universities would benefit from normalizing conversations about mental health.
A discussion emphasizing mental health as a condition many people struggle with doesn’t make those affected a “time bomb,” “over-sensitive,” or a “crybaby.” These conversations could make students more open to looking for help and more understanding of those with mental health conditions.
As Temple freshmen and students at many universities continue to pack on layers of stress, making the conversation about mental health more accessible and common would be a step in the right direction.
Grace Shallow can be reached at email@example.com.