Academic stress perception among college students can have a significant impact on their mental well-being. Students’ emotional states, coping strategies, and overall mental health can be influenced by how they perceive and interpret the stressors they encounter during their academic journey. According to a new study, students who are nonbinary, female, or in their second year of college are the most affected by academic stress.
According to a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School study, academic stress has a greater impact on the mental health of certain groups of college students than others, which is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers discovered a significant correlation between perceived academic stress and poor mental well-being in all students, but especially in those who are nonbinary, female, or in the second year of a four-year program, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
This study shows that academic stress or pandemic-related stress do not affect college students uniformly, and that certain groups should be offered additional resources and support. The findings support previous research that has shown that nonbinary adults have worse mental health outcomes than male- and female-identifying adults.Xue Ming
“This study shows that academic stress or pandemic-related stress do not affect college students uniformly, and that certain groups should be offered additional resources and support,” said study author Xue Ming, a professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The findings support previous research that has shown that nonbinary adults have worse mental health outcomes than male- and female-identifying adults.”
According to the American Psychological Association, up to 87 percent of college students in the United States report that education is their primary source of stress, owing to demanding course loads, studying, time management, classroom competition, financial concerns, family pressures, and difficulty adapting to new environments, but few studies have looked at how that stress directly affects mental health.
The study aimed to see if there is a link between college students’ perceived academic stress and their mental health, to identify groups that may experience varying levels of academic stress and mental health, and to investigate how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affects stress levels.
Researchers surveyed 843 college students between ages 18 and 30 in each academic year of study using questions from the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (SWEMWBS), which measures mental well-being and positive mental health, and questions from the Perception of Academic Stress Scale (PAS), which assesses sources of perceived academic stress and measures three main academic stressors: academic expectations; workload and examinations; and academic self-perceptions of students.
Female students reported the most stress and the worst psychological well-being, followed by nonbinary students. In addition, both groups reported higher COVID-19-related stress than males. Second-year students reported higher levels of academic stress and lower mental well-being than students in previous academic years. First-year students performed best on the Perception of Academic Stress Scale, which included stress from COVID-19.
The researchers believe that second-year students are more susceptible to academic stress as a group because they begin taking more advanced courses, manage heavier academic workloads, and explore different majors. Other factors may include increased studying and having less established social support networks and coping mechanisms when compared to upperclass students.
“Colleges should consider offering tailored mental health resources to these groups in order to improve students’ stress levels and psychological well-being,” Ming suggested. “To raise awareness and destigmatize mental health, colleges can distribute confidential validated assessments, such as the PAS and SWEMWBS, in class and teach students how to self-score so they can monitor their stress and mental well-being.”
To help build resilience, the researchers also recommend that colleges provide stress-management and coping strategies such as mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as stress-reduction peer support groups.