Volume XV | Issue 2 | Fall 2015
A traveling exhibition by Active Minds, an advocacy group, consists of 1,100 backpacks representing the approximate number of undergraduates who commit suicide each year. Photo: Active Minds

The pressure of perfection

High expectations cause anxiety, depression among college students

Going to college can be a dream come true, but for an increasing number of students, the dream is turning into a nightmare as they struggle to cope with the expectations that higher education brings. 

suicide rates increasing

The New York Times recently reported on college suicides and the pressures students are under to succeed. “Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection” takes a hard look at what students are dealing with in today’s educational environment. 

The newspaper found that the pressure to succeed is so pervasive that schools have their own name for the behavior. At Stanford, for example, it’s called the Duck Syndrome: A duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles. 

A survey of college counseling centers has found that more than half of their clients have severe psychological problems, an increase of 13% in just two years. Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nationally, the suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has increased modestly since 2007: from 9.6 deaths per 100,000 to 11.1, in 2013 (the latest year available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 

“This issue is very real,” says Jeff Strickland, a counselor in the Ford Family Foundation Scholarship Office. “Like so many educational institutions nationwide, we’ve increased our support efforts around mental and emotional well-being. Plus, we try to identify scholarship recipients who are at risk and provide them with additional resources.”

For a look at the Aug. 9, 2015 article, visit www.nytimes.com and search for “suicide on campus.”  

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