By Erin Butterfield

This year there is a record level of stress found in college freshmen. The emotional health of freshmen in college has declined to the lowest level it’s ever been, and it’s mainly because of the pressures that high school instilled in these students. Some people think that when they enter college, all aspects of their high school years are gone, but it turns out that many college freshmen are still carrying their high school stress and baggage.

Campus counselors have been noticing depressed students, and there are more students than usual who are self-medicating–with alcohol, street drugs, or whatever they can find in the medicine cabinet. Student debt is also going up with, which doesn’t help anything. “This fits with what we’re all seeing,” said Brian Van Brunt, director of counseling at Western Kentucky University and president of the American College Counseling Association. “More students are arriving on campus with problems, needing support, and today’s economic factors are putting a lot of extra stress on college students, as they look at their loans and wonder if there will be a career waiting for them on the other side…There’s a lot of pressure to put on a perfect face, and people often think they’re the only ones having trouble.”

People often put more pressure on themselves than others are putting on them. But why is that? “Students know their generation is likely to be less successful than their parents’, so they feel more pressure to succeed than in the past,” said Jason Ebbeling, Director of Residential Education at Southern Oregon University. “These days, students worry that even with a college degree they won’t find a job that pays more than minimum wage, so even at 15 or 16 they’re thinking they’ll need to get into an M.B.A. program or Ph.D. program.”

The gender gap on that question on a recent survey was even larger than on emotional health, with 18% of the men saying they had been frequently overwhelmed, compared with 39% of the women. There is also a gender gap, studies have shown, in the students who seek out college mental health services, with women making up 60% or more of the clients. This may be because boys are taught to not show feeling or emotion, but girls are taught that they should. “One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” said Linda Sax, Professor of Education at UCLA. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.” College shouldn‘t be the stressful, pressure-filled environment that many students are finding it to be lately, but it‘s up to us to change that.