Poll Details Pressures ‘Generally Happy’ Collegians Face


mtvU and the Associated Press said a new poll shows, despite a battery of serious pressures, students are generally happy – though stress levels run high on campus, and a majority report they have been unable to finish school work and even withdrawn from friends because of stress.

Further, a distressing number of students say they’ve had suicidal thoughts and intentionally injured themselves. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have personally touched half of all college students, heaping more stress atop worries about academic performance and a looming recession.

In the face of stress and uncertainty, nearly two-thirds of college students say they’re generally happy, with the same percentage reporting they have enjoyed life most or all of the time during the past three months.

Six in ten were hopeful about the future during this same time period.

And despite recent high-profile campus tragedies, 86% say they feel very or somewhat safe at their school.

At the same time, the study shows that stress is taking a serious toll on the everyday lives of college students: 80% feel stress in their daily lives, with 39% feeling it frequently (45% of females and 34% of males).

In the past three months, 63% say they’ve been so stressed they couldn’t get school work done and more than half (55%) didn’t want to hang out with friends or participate socially because of stress.

More than a third felt like a failure, or that they had let people down, and 42% felt lonely during this same time period.

Staying on top of school work and getting good grades are the most prevalent stressors on college campuses, with 74% and 71%, respectively, saying these pressures contributed a lot or some what to their daily stress in the past three months.

Money matters followed close behind, with 62% saying financial concerns drove a lot or some of their daily stress.

Family issues and relationships were next, with roughly half deriving stress from these factors. 

Spring break also registered as a stress factor, with 45% saying they worry about being in shape for spring break and the same percentage concerned they won’t have enough money to enjoy it.

On the five-year anniversary of the Iraq war, half of college students say they know somebody who has been mobilized to serve in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Of those personally touched by the war:

-- 55% say they experienced some/a lot of stress related to this person’s service.

-- 57% think the U.S. government has done a somewhat or very poor job of providing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with medical and psychological treatment.

--66% think it is somewhat/very difficult for service members to readjust in the U.S. after they have served.

Overall, 68% of college students believe the U.S. made a mistake in going to war with Iraq.

Stress, in and of itself, is not always a bad thing and can often be a motivating factor when managed correctly. When stress becomes excessive and impacts a student’s ability to function, it can have severe consequences, especially for students with a mental health condition.

The mtvU/AP poll reaffirms that mental health struggles are common amongst the college audience and continued efforts are needed to educate students on resources they can access for help. 

Of those surveyed: 

--34% felt depressed in the last three months.

--8% have intentionally injured or cut themselves in the same time frame.

--16% have a friend who has talked about ending their life in the past year and 9% have contemplated suicide themselves.

Among those with a diagnosed mental health condition, the numbers rise dramatically, with 23% reporting they have seriously considered suicide (vs. 6% undiagnosed).

Of the 9% who said they have considered suicide in the past year, half said they have considered talking to a counselor or professional, but only a quarter have actually received such help.

The poll found 56% of students are confident where or whom they could turn to for help if they were suffering serious emotional distress – their top three selections are friends, parents and siblings – but 52% are not too familiar or not at all familiar with their on-campus counseling resources. Some 26% have considered seeking professional help since they began college, but only 15% actually have. Of those diagnosed with a mental health condition, 44% have encountered at least some difficulty in following a treatment plan while at college.

Additional findings from this poll can be found at here.

The mtvU and Associated Press study caps a month of special mtvU programming designed to address the many unique stressors college students encounter this time of year – including mid-terms, starting their careers, feeling out of shape at Spring Break and more. These latest efforts are part of mtvU and The Jed Foundation’s ongoing “Half of Us” campaign, designed to reduce the student suicide rate, fight the stigma of mental health on college campuses and connect students to the help they need. 

The backbone of the campaign is the Web site Halfofus.com, with an abundance of educational and support resources. The mtvU/Associated Press poll was conducted Feb. 28- March 6 and included interviews with 2,253 undergraduate students at 40 randomly chosen four-year schools across the country.

The survey was conducted for the Associated Press and mtvU by Edison Media Research of Somerville, N.J., under the direction and supervision of AP's polling unit. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.