The survey of more than 150,000 students nationwide, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014,” found that 9.5 percent of respondents had frequently “felt depressed” during the past year, a significant rise over the 6.1 percent reported five years ago.
High numbers of students are beginning college having felt depressed and overwhelmed during the previous year, according to an annual survey being released Thursday, reinforcing some experts’ concern about the emotional health of college freshmen.
The survey of more than 150,000 students nationwide, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014,” found that 9.5 percent of respondents had frequently “felt depressed” during the past year, a significant rise over the 6.1 percent reported five years ago. Those who “felt overwhelmed” by schoolwork and other commitments rose to 34.6 percent from 27.1 percent.
The survey, conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute for almost 50 years, assesses matters ranging from political views to exercise habits.
“We’re expecting more of students: There’s a sense of having to compete in a global economy, and they think they have to be on top of their game all the time,” said Dr. Anthony Rostain, a psychiatrist and co-chairman of a University of Pennsylvania task force on students’ emotional health.
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Other survey results indicated students were spending more time on academics and socializing less, trends that would normally be lauded.
But the lead author of the study, Kevin Eagan, cautioned that the shift could result in higher levels of stress.
“Students may be getting the message that they have to take the last year of high school more seriously to get into college, so they’re coming in with greater levels of anxiety,” Eagan said.
“There may need to be a balance that students need to have at some point, and helping students achieve that balance will be more of a concern on colleges and universities.”
Julia Fortier, a freshman at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who graduated last year from the prestigious Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y., said it had not been uncommon for some of her friends to take five Advanced Placement classes in the same year, while also trying to juggle the extracurricular activities expected by college-admissions boards.
“You have to get good grades, have all sorts of after-school activities that take up tons of hours, and you have to be happy and social — you have to be everything,” she said.
Students reported watching considerably less television compared with students in 2009, with more than half saying they watched less than two hours a week.
Not surprisingly, some of that time had shifted to using social networks, on which more than 1 in 4 students said they spent more than six hours a week.