week’s New York Times had a huge piece by Jan Hoffman on how the sheer number of college students experiencing anxiety is overwhelming the campus mental health centers. Why are young people so very anxious?
Anxiety has become emblematic of the current generation of college students, said Dan Jones, the director of counseling and psychological services at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.
“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”
As I hope you know, I don’t blame parents for being so worried and passing that worry along. When you have a whole culture this knotted with anxiety, it is the culture that’s gone overboard, not individual parents. They are only responding to the fear they’re force-fed.
Still, it might be a good time to pick up a book like Peter Gray’s “Free to Learn” to remind ourselves that one time-honored, fast-acting, absolutely free stress buster was once enjoyed by all kids: Play. In fact, when I heard Gray lecture, he said that the mental health folks at Boston College, where he taught, had told him that today’s students were coming in for less earthshaking reasons than earlier generations. Maybe they saw a mouse, or had an argument with their roommate.
I’m not anti mental health counseling. But I do worry about excess worrying. It’s no fun for anyone (even me! Right now! Worrying about worrying about worrying!). – L.