In 2009, the American College Health Association found that nearly 30 percent of college students reported being depressed to the point where it was difficult to function.
Generally, people are not perturbed by the anxiety and depression that riddle college campuses, since it seems to be synonymous with higher-level education.
There are a number of generally accepted factors that cause the phenomenon: Students are put under a great deal of pressure, their studies may be difficult and time-consuming, they have been thrust into what is often a vastly foreign social environment and thoughts of future success are now more important than ever.
The causes are clear, but there is a deeper implication that should be considered — one that is rooted in the very nature of the institution of higher education itself.
Consider your childhood and try to conjure the nostalgia of the vast and infinitely wondrous world of youth. Expectations were inessential (be nice to the neighborhoods kids, don’t chase the cat and use nice words) and time was free-flowing and unburdened with responsibilities.
Fast forward to grade school, where you must now restrict a significant portion of that wide-eyed curiosity and focus on predetermined subjects deemed practical. Many kids adapt to this well and become good students, while others resist this perceived foreign vice and end up as the problem students and future unemployed.
Eventually high school rolls around, and most students are now in the swing of things. Performing well in school, or at least mediocrely, has become intuitive.
Out of this class, a select few are very confident in what they wish to pursue after high school, but most are not. Regardless, college is often deemed the proper way to embark on one’s future endeavors. For the first time we are truly faced with the idea of molding our being into something worthwhile.
The amorphous and abstract blob of our inner identity is chipped away throughout our young lives, molded into functional units that carry the few strands of uniqueness that were not lost from being conditioned into society. Time starts working against us and what was once a world of infinite wonder and possibility begins to turn into a series of stressful qualifiers and superficial judgments (GPA, résumé quality and so on).
“What am I going to do with my life?” This question is the tip of the iceberg that is the massive incongruence between one’s self and one’s environment and expectations. For the first time we are introduced to the idea of “marketable skills,” and for many, this is a troublesome notion. The philosophy student is often ridiculed for his major choice, as there is no “philosophy store” and thus no clear direct and profitable application of the degree.
What is often perceived as the expansive and open-minded world of academia can be stifling and cold at times. It offers lofty horizons of knowledge and pursuit, but also reminds us of the limited usefulness of some of the available degrees.
This dissonance can be massively stressful, as it transcends the surface worries of landing a well-paying job or graduating with a marketable degree. It begs questions of one’s use of time and implies threats to personal fulfillment.
This has never been such a profoundly bothersome issue for most of us since in our youth, time seemed to extend toward an ever-moving horizon line and personal growth was relatively organic, without the rigid expectations we now see.
I’m not trying to project an anti-institutional mindset or rally the hippies of Binghamton to fight our capitalistic society, but the reasons behind the worries so many of us experience in school should be addressed so that they may be reconciled in whatever way possible.
The university is an unnatural experience for us, and we should expect it to cause some feathers to ruffle and brows to furrow. We are footloose at heart — explorers who revel in abstract inhibitions — so despite what your college years may bring you, never settle for the sake of ease or convention. Discover yourself and live a truly excellent life.