Incoming freshmen spend more time in the library than socializing, study finds

An annual study shows that current incoming freshmen have lower mental health level, leading them to spend more time studying rather than going out with their friends.

The study, performed by University of California at Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute, surveyed incoming college freshman in 2014 to find that they have the lowest mental health level discovered in the survey’s 50-year history. In the study, 50.7 percent of the incoming freshman self-reported feeling depressed at some point before college, a 2.3 percent increase since 2013.

UCLA’s survey, The American Freshman, also discovered that partying and alcohol and drug substance use before freshmen come to college has dramatically fallen since the ‘80s. Experts are starting to think this directly correlates to students’ health because instead of relaxing, they spend their extra time focusing on school.

Additionally, with the increasing use of social media, freshmen social skills are at an all-time low. Time students usually spent on a night out with friends socializing is now either made up of studying or surfing the Internet.

Lauren Pustulka, a freshman in DGS, said on average in high school she went out five or less hours a week, meaning that she fell into the same amount of partying as 91.4 percent of the incoming freshman. She agreed that previous generations went out more but does not think her social skills have suffered because of it.

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“They could have been better if I wasn’t surrounded by social media and Facebook,” Pustulka said. “Instead of hanging out with my friends, I would be texting or on the Internet, and even when I was hanging out with my friends, we would be texting other people.”

When asked about her study habits, Pustulka said they had decreased since coming to college. While Pustulka doesn’t currently suffer from depression, at certain points in her life, pressures have made her feel this way.

Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of McKinley Health Center, said that while there has been a steady increase in requests for counseling services at the University, he doesn’t believe pressure on current freshmen for higher career aspirations has had a more negative effect on their socialization and mental health than that of freshmen before them.

“I think all college students have robust aspirations, even those from previous generations,” he said in an email. “Distress is likely to come from many different directions.”

Dr. Carla McCowan, director of the Counseling Center, said it would be difficult to pinpoint the cause of feelings of depression. McCowan believes academics, finances, social media and social activity are causes that may lead freshmen to have higher mental and emotional distress.

“Students today have tremendous pressures … in many ways society is far more complex than it was 20 years ago,” she said in an email. “Every student copes differently, so while increasing social activity may be helpful for some, it may increase stress for others.”

Palinkas said the standard advice to students in managing their time between socializing and studying is balance and moderation. He said students should avoid overdoing any one aspect of life.

In her experience, McCowan said she has seen cases where distress does not prevent students from enjoying their time at the University.

“I see many students that have an absolutely incredible experience at Illinois, even if they went through a period of emotional distress and were able to successfully navigate their way to the other side,” she said, “Happiness is determined by a lot of things and hopefully, learning about one’s own journey toward happiness is occurring in college.”

McCowan said the Counseling Center works to promote an overall sense of wellness, not just psychological or emotional, with balance being an essential component.

Both Palinkas and McCowan urged students to use the services provided to them by the University. The Counseling Center is open Monday-Friday from 7:50 a.m. to 5 p.m. and appointments can be made by calling (217) 333-3704. If a student is in crisis and in need of an urgent appointment, they may walk in for an emergency appointment.

Michelle can be reached at [email protected].