5 Key Tips for College Student Wellness
Students Have Pressing Needs
It’s critical to understand that students’ wellness needs affect academic performance. Top among the factors affecting academic performance, cited by students in research conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA), are stress (30.8%), anxiety (21.8%), sleep difficulties (21.0%), cold/flu, sore throat (15.1%), work (13.8%), depression (13.5%), internet use/computer games (11.6%), concern for a troubled friend or family member (10.9%
Drug and Alcohol Use
Among the students citing alcohol use with the ACHA survey, over one in five (22%) report consuming 7 or more at a time, with the average number of drinks being 4.82 per person. Nearly one in seven (14.0%) students report using one or more prescription drugs not prescribed for them during the last year, with 8.3% reporting the use of stimulants, 6.2% using pain killers, and 3.6% using sedatives. Johnston and his colleagues, with their longitudinal survey, documents that, on a monthly basis, 63.1% of full-time college students drink alcohol, 14.0% use tobacco, and 20.6% use marijuana; further, 35.2% of students consume 5 or more drinks at least once in the past two weeks.
How Might this Affect Student Performance?
From an overall contextual perspective, students reported feeling, in the last two weeks, overwhelmed by all they had to do (51.4%), feeling exhausted, and not from physical activity (50.1%), feeling very sad (24.7%), feeling very lonely (24.1%), feeling overwhelming anxiety (22.1%), and feeling things were hopeless (16.6%) (ACHA). Anderson and Gadaleto report on college administrators’ beliefs that alcohol is involved with 24% of student attrition and 28% of students’ lack of academic success, as well as with 55% of violent behavior and 68% of acquaintance rape.
Among freshmen, one-third (33.1%) reported being overwhelmed by all they had to do, 8.9% felt depressed, at a level of “frequently” during the past year; further 45.1% reported falling asleep in class, “frequently” or “occasionally” during the past year (Eagan et al.). These data document briefly that wellness issues are very much a part of students’ lives and often hamper students’ basic success or survival. Further, they can easily thwart the achievement of students’ goals and dreams.
Colleges and Universities Have a Unique Role to Play
Our nation’s colleges and universities have an important role with the development of the hearts, minds, and bodies of students. Not only do these institutions of higher education have a role in addressing the various wellness issues affecting academic and other success among students, but they also have an opportunity to shape future generations of people who serve as the backbone of our nation: workers, family members, leaders, and community members. Over a half-century ago, Sanford stated: “If our culture and our society are to be changed at all by the deliberate application of intelligence and foresight, no agency has a better chance of initiating change than our institutions of higher learning”.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 21 million individuals are enrolled in degree-granting institutions in the United States, higher than the 16 million enrolled in 2001, which itself was up11% over 1991. NCES estimates, for the decade 2011 – 2021, an enrollment rise of 13% for students under age 25, and 14% for those age 25 and above. Thus, the need and opportunity to address wellness issues are both growing.
Coupling this enrollment with an anticipatory and forward-looking approach, attention should be placed on the skills needed for various careers and emerging needs for the world of the next decade and beyond. These skills include, among others: critical thinking, ethical leadership, interpersonal relationships, innovation, balance, and engineered planning.
Student Success is a Shared Responsibility
Personnel in colleges and universities — including faculty as well as those in student affairs professions — have a unique role to play in the lives of students. These stakeholders are in high-level policy roles as well as those in advising, consultative, training, or programming roles; they are also seasoned professionals as well as those just beginning their careers. It’s important to remember that student success is not simply the responsibility of the student. While, ultimately, each student is responsible for his/her own personal destiny and academic success, concerned others can provide inspiration, redirection, challenges, and advice. Students need to learn to manage themselves and to overcome the range of challenges they might face; however, they can benefit from the wisdom and insight of others, particularly those working on the college campus.
The efforts to address student wellness issues is not just the purview of those with specific expertise in a topic area; these specialists have important roles to play, but all other campus personnel can serve as “first responders” for identifying and referring students, for encouraging students’ use of various resources, for correcting myths, misperceptions, and inaccuracies about many wellness issues, and for promoting a positive, engaged lifestyle.
Wellness is Holistic
Over three decades ago, the concept of health was reconceptualized as overall fitness that applies to the body, mind and spirit, rather than just being considered the absence of disease. This concept was named “wellness” and emphasized healthy living. Powers and Dodd see wellness as “a state of healthy living” that is “achieved by the practice of a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, proper nutrition, eliminating unhealthy behaviors, and maintaining good emotional and spiritual health.”
Wellness is about being positive and proactive. Wellness is preventive. Wellness is optimistic. Wellness is never-ending. Wellness is a journey.
Wellness is about being positive and proactive. Wellness is preventive. Wellness is optimistic. Wellness is never-ending. Wellness is a journey. While wellness doesn’t have a defined “endpoint” (i.e., a person is never completely “there”), a state of wellness is one of relative balance and productivity in one’s life. It is about actualized potential, knowing that one can always get better and be better throughout life. Attention to wellness is important and necessary – and addresses the challenges to student non-success within a prevention-oriented, holistic mindset.
Understanding Wellness Is an Investment Easily Applied
To fully understand wellness issues, personnel in colleges and universities can benefit from the expertise of those who specialize–whether that be in nutrition or stress, drug and alcohol use, mental and relationship health, sexual decision-making, study and writing skills, sleep and exercise, technology, or spirituality. Campus personnel and others invested in the success of students can benefit from current knowledge on the topic as well as best-practices. Specific wellness topics have a significant body of literature and research, for the collegiate audience as well as other age groups. By reading a synthesis of the latest research, exploring some of the controversies and emerging issues in wellness, becoming aware of various resources and documentation on the topic, and understanding policies and programs in place across the country, personnel can become quite well grounded in wellness issues.
This whitepaper is by DAVID S. ANDERSON, Ph.D.
Professor of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, USA, and author of Wellness Issues for Higher Education: A Guide for Student Affairs and Higher Education Professionals (2015)
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