Freshman blues plague physical, spiritual and emotional well-being

By Beth Ann Conahan
February 21, 2002

Justine Di Filippo

Freshmen health suffers after the first year at college. Physical health, mental health and spiritual health are all affected in the months between August and May when students are subjected to their first year away from home or set in a different academic and social scene.

The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles administers the survey. It surveyed 3,680 freshmen at 50 institutions in the fall of 2000 and surveyed them again the following year.

The results were disquieting. Freshmen students face a first year of deteriorating health in their physical, emotional and spiritual lives.

There is a significant drop in response to the survey question of emotional health. Approximately 52 percent of freshmen surveyed before the school year felt their emotional health was “above average.” The following year, the students’ responses dropped to approximately 45 percent.

Cabrini, though not one of the 50 schools surveyed, experiences a similar decline in emotional heath during the first year. Suzanne Mallaghan-Rasco, clinical psychologist and counselor, recognizes that students’ first time on their own creates a perfect setting for new stresses. “It’s normal to feel a little anxiety,” Rasco said.

Though Cabrini does not offer “long-term support,” a student’s emotional health will not be ignored should they need it. Students who require long-term counseling will be referred to an outside source since the counselors would be inadequate when you take into consideration school breaks. However, Rasco said that most students do not require long-term counseling and six to eight visits is usually sufficient.

Cabrini’s counselors are working on methods to better prepare students for their first year away from home. They are currently planning a program or programs that would be held during orientation. Rasco would like to run a program that would also prepare parents for their children’s departure from home. She acknowledged that it is a difficult experience for the parent as well as the child.

A student’s physical health is also in jeopardy during their first year. Students surveyed who rated their health “above average” dropped from approximately 51 percent to 41 percent. Many things cause this drop. Students exercise less frequently after the first year, students drink alcohol more regularly and many even pick up the habit of smoking.

A student’s spiritual health is also affected. Students who attended religious services dropped from approximately 85 percent to approximately 60 percent. This drop is also evident at Cabrini.

Campus Minister Mary Laver notices that masses in the earliest weeks of school are the most attended. As the school year progresses, attendance fluctuates. Ash Wednesday is a day when Campus Ministry sees the highest attendance in the chapel. Almost the entire campus is in attendance. She also notices a higher attendance just before finals.

She believes that college is a time in a student’s life when he or she begins to question what he or she was taught to believe by their parents and their schools. She thinks that students use their time here to decide what they really believe.

Laver’s theory seems to be supported by the data collected within the survey. Before their freshman year, only 47.7 percent of the students surveyed felt that “integrating spirituality” into their lives was important. By the end of the year, the number jumped to 56.7 percent.

A student’s first year of college is a difficult time. The changes of lifestyle and academic expectations are no doubt causes of this stressful time. Their health suffers but there is hope. Sophomore year is just around the corner.

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Beth Ann Conahan

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