Post-secondary institutions are infamous for contributing to high stress levels among their students and lately colleges and universities throughout Canada and the U.S. are struggling to deal with a surge in cases of mental health concerns, like depression, amongst students.
Receiving a post-secondary education has never been easy on students and mental health issues are not uncommon on campus, but why the sudden increase?
One explanation is that there aren’t really more cases of mental health issues, people just hear about them more now than they would have 50, 20 or even 10 years ago because awareness of mental health issues has increased. Slowly, the negative stigmas surrounding mental health are disappearing and people who would not have come forward decades ago for fear of being judged are doing so now.
Another theory is the lack the coping skills necessary to survive college or university because students are from a generation raised by over-protective ‘helicopter parents.’ Essentially, young adults need to ‘suck it up, toughen up and develop thick skin’ to make it through post-secondary.
Being a product of the so-called ‘helicopter-parent’ generation and having received a post-secondary degree within the last five years, I think it is unfair to put the onus of dealing with this problem on the students. Instead, I would like to present my own theory for what may be contributing to the surge of mental-health concerns on post-secondary campuses – that the schools do too little to help their students.
Let me explain. As mentioned already, college and university students have been known to suffer incredible stress during their studies long before now, so why has it never been addressed? While it is true students need to develop coping skills, I believe the school must take some responsibility to help them as well.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this stress. First, there is time, or the lack of it. Every post-secondary class I have ever heard of is designed like it is the only class a student is going to take in a semester. But, a full-time student will actually take between four and six of these classes, depending on the program and the institution, each semester.
Secondly, many courses are designed to make students fail. The rationale behind the incredibly high demands of post-secondary courses and how hard students have to work to achieve a decent grade is that it ‘weeds out’ the students who are probably better suited pursuing degrees in other areas.
In my time at school, I knew a lot of students who were ‘weeded out’ of their chosen programs. They went into one program, found they didn’t have what it takes, and switched out of it to find something they were much happier doing, but only after they had wasted thousands of dollars pursuing a degree they wouldn’t earn.
I also found that a lot of requirements to be accepted into some programs, particularly my own, were quite low. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, if the requirements to get into programs were higher, the courses wouldn’t need to be so difficult.
Finally, there are the bad teachers. Teachers do a difficult job and are usually underappreciated for it, but there are bad teachers in every level of education. In a higher seat of learning though, you would expect the quality of instruction to be higher too. Maybe that’s why bad teachers stand out so much more here.
While going to school I had a roommate who failed a midterm along with 44 other students in the 60-student class. His teacher told the class they weren’t trying hard enough. That might be valid reasoning when a teacher has a handful of students fail, but when two thirds of them don’t understand the material, I think that reflects a on how the class is being taught.
I know I sound ungrateful to my post-secondary institution, but I’m not. I learned a lot from my education, I just have a lot of frustrations with how that education was delivered.
I also know I’m not the only one. With so many things working against them, who can blame post-secondary students for being stressed and depressed?