Freshman class most depressed, study says

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The first-year college experience is supposed to be one of the best years of a person’s life, but freshmen across the country are saying that isn’t so.

The Higher Education Research Institution released a study titled “The American Freshman” that surveyed roughly 150,000 first-time, full-time students in 227 colleges and universities across the country. According to the study, which is repeated annually, freshman students felt more depressed and spent more time on social media than they ever had before.

Students who participated in the study were asked how they would rate their emotional health. The amount of students who said they would rate their emotional state “above average” dropped to almost 50 percent, which is the lowest level recorded. Around 10 percent of students said they “frequently” felt depressed.

A student’s state of well-being can have an impact on his or her school work, the study shows. Students who ranked themselves low on emotional health reported showing up to class late and sometimes falling asleep in class once they got there.

They typically felt less satisfied with their college experience and struggled “to develop a sense of belonging on campus.”

According to the enrollment data from the Dixie State University website, almost half of the full-time students in the fall 2014 semester were freshmen, so DSU isn’t immune to these numbers.

One big cause of stress for freshmen is not having an immediate academic plan. 

“Picking what classes to take is a hard decision when you don’t know your major,” said Rhiannon Ahmed, a freshman general education major from Cedar City. “Picking a major so early is very stressful because I don’t know what I want to do.”

Academic advisement is one way to give a student more direction and ease the pressure. 

Tyler Slesk, an academic adviser who helps first-year students, said one of the hardest things for freshmen he meets with is they don’t know what to expect. 

“Really what we want to do here is just empower the students with a knowledge of where they are going,” Slesk said. “Some students don’t understand where they are going so they feel kind of like they’re in a pit. When they come here we can give them that knowledge and send them out the door with a little bit of confidence.”

The HERI study also showed that students are spending the most amount of time on social media and the least amount of time socializing with friends compared to past years. Although students aren’t socializing as much in real life, almost half of the incoming freshmen surveyed said a school providing social events was a “very important” part of deciding if they attended that college or university. The study said this may be because students need more structured social atmospheres “given their declining experience with less structured forms of socializing” due to social media use.

DSU freshmen have the option to take First Year Experience classes, which Slesk said is a good way for students to ease into college academics and social life.  

“Some of the assignments in there are going to be like, ‘attend the football game this Saturday,’ ” Slesk said. “We have a lot of people that come in here and say ‘St. George is boring.’ Well have you been out of your dorm? Have you left your computer? I think the FYE class is good at that, too. It points out some of the options around here.”

DSU freshmen who feel depressed or unable to socialize have many resources on campus.

The Health and Wellness Center is located near campus at 34 N 600 East and has a staff specifically for mental health services. Students who feel depressed are encouraged not to wait to make an appointment.

Academic advisement, the Health and Wellness Center, information about student activities and all other resources can be found on the DSU website.