Stressors for home bound college students

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist

Continued shutdown orders got you down? Me too. But, for highly functioning individuals with decades of experience meeting the challenges of economic downturns, chronic underemployment and high debt; we have honed our coping strategies to effectively confront them. So if you dare to think that as a 40-year-old or middle age person, your life is in the pits, what about your young adult child?  

Stressors such as the disruption of the college campus life environment, social distancing mandates, restricted options for leisure activities, and forced higher order learning vis-à-vis the personal computer may have taken its toll on one of our most vulnerable population groups; young adults lacking the coping skills necessary to thrive.

The National Institutes of Health on August 2020, in response to anecdotal reports of the negative mental health effects of the CoVid-19 Pandemic on young adults aged 18 to 30 years conducted an online survey of almost 1,000 participants. Among those participants who identified as university students, 89.7% were enrolled in college or institutions of higher learning full-time and 7.3% were international students. The purpose of the survey was to determine the level of risk to well-being among U.S. young adults (18-30 years) caused by the pandemic. They found the risk factors historically associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) prevalent among our young adults. Their findings related to mental health included:

  • 61.5% experienced high levels of loneliness
  • 72.0% reported low resilience levels
  • 74.1% experienced low distress tolerance

Descriptive Psychological Challenges

  • Lack of Certainty.  The participants were critical of their ability to manage school or work responsibilities during the pandemic. This negative self-assessment was acerbated by the lack of certainty about a final conclusion to the end of the pandemic. Both of these factors caused particular distress.
  • Prevalence of Clinical levels of Mental Health disorders. High loneliness and low distress tolerance levels, the NIH researchers found, were consistently associated with high levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

As a concerned parent, caregiver, mentor or educator the NIH researchers concluded that “individual resilience may be a salient characteristic that protect against the mental health symptoms that follow major stressors. Individual resilience is a significant protective factor for depression, PTSD, and general health after natural disasters.” (Kukihara et al, 2014).  As a background, individual resilience, defined by the authors “refers to one’s ability to cope with stress, and distress tolerance and describes one’s ability to manage and tolerate emotional distress.” Ibid.

Lessons to Apply

The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child reports that resilience helps to “reduce the effects of significant adversity on children’s healthy development. This fact is also true for young and older adults. Consistent with Harvard, the NIH researchers determined in this study that “high levels of resilience were associated with low anxiety.”

In addition to resiliency skills the NIH researchers found that “social support from family was associated with low levels of depression and PTSD symptoms.”

Parent Tips

Ok, let’s say you have the parental support area covered. The act of searching the internet to read informative articles is a testament you your engagement. However, what if you need more knowledge about how to develop your child’s resiliency skills? According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, please keep the following in mind.

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. But involved parenting in not enough. Parents must too, instill adaptive skill-building competencies among their children, increase positive experiences, and teach their children how to monitor and regulate their behavior. While effectively parenting, moms, dads and caregivers may help their children build self-efficacy to strengthen their internal loci of control. So while we once considered empty nesting as a goal for which to aspire, let’s not push them too quickly to unsupervised and unsupported adulthood. They, and (we) by extension are not out of the woods yet.

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Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya dot ishareknowledge dot com

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