Six University of Pennsylvania students committed suicide in 13 months. Tulane lost four students this past school year. In the 2009-2010 school year Cornell had six suicides. Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health diagnoses among college students according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State. What’s going on?
In her New York Times article Julie Scelfo examines how students internalize external expectations of success, constantly feeling like they aren’t measuring up. Some experts say social media makes the problem worse, offering a platform where young people can present a perfect version of life to the outside world, even if inside many are wracked with self-doubt. Scelfo writes:
“William Alexander, director of Penn’s counseling and psychological services, has watched a shift in how some young adults cope with challenges. ‘A small setback used to mean disappointment, or having that feeling of needing to try harder next time,’ he said. Now? ‘For some students, a mistake has incredible meaning.’
Meeta Kumar, who has been counseling at Penn for 16 years, has noticed the same change. Getting a B can cause some students to fall apart, she said. ‘What you and I would call disappointments in life, to them feel like big failures.’ ”
How can the adults in students’ lives help them grow up with a healthier approach to life’s setbacks and challenges?
Kathryn DeWitt conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. She ran track, represented her school at a statewide girls’ leadership program and took eight Advanced Placement tests, including one for which she independently prepared, forgoing the class. Expectations were high. Every day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades were posted online.