Totally stressed out: the mental and emotional health crisis on college campuses

Published on
November 16, 2011

Stress has always been a part of college life – moving away from home, living with roommates and cramming for tests. But college counselors are worried – new and serious stressors are crippling students' health and hindering their academic success. More students are struggling with financial stress, triggered by the economy; and post-traumatic stress disorder, seen in the rising number of student veterans who are freshly home from war.

This two-part series will explore the crumbling emotional and mental health of college students in the San Joaquin Valley from two angles:

·Stress caused by financial worry has reached new heights on college campuses as students struggle to pay rising tuition fees, survive on their own and help their parents – who may be hit with a home foreclosure or job loss – make ends meet. At California State University, Fresno, psychological counselors say they're treating a record numbers of students whose mental and physical health is under siege by the stress of working two or three jobs while carrying a full course load. A health crisis has emerged on campus: students have cut out sleeping and eating to save time and money, their anxiety is at an all-time high, and many don't have safe or secure housing.

This story will explore how the economy has pushed Fresno State students' stress to new heights and the resulting degradation of their health; the disproportionate impact to minorities, particularly first-generation Latino students; and the ways stress can threaten a student's academic success, career opportunities, and ultimately, the Valley economy.

Multimedia: video/audio slideshow of one student's struggle to stay afloat with work and school, coping strategies and flailing health

·As the Iraq War comes to a close and the war in Afghanistan draws down, a new generation of vets is returning home, confronted with a bleak job market. With few opportunities for employment, many have enrolled in community colleges. Student veterans struggle to transition from life as a solider to life as a student, and many bring to campuses serious emotional and psychological challenges that manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and an inability to concentrate. The stressors make studying and test-taking difficult, and take a toll on their relationships with teachers and peers.

Reedley College and Fresno City College have some of the highest populations of vets among community colleges and their veteran programs are considered some of the best in the state. But funding cuts, coupled with rising enrollment, have depleted resources. College counselors say many vets don't seek out help when they need it and their problems could go untreated – at times leading to a disruption on campus and posing a danger to teachers and students.

This story will explore how the trauma of war impacts vets' ability to assimilate to college life; the failures of cash-strapped community colleges to meet the needs of the growing population of vets; and the dangers of failing to treat their emotional and mental illnesses.

Multimedia: video/audio slideshow of one vet's efforts to overcome the aftermath of war to get a college degree