Study: Academic Stress Hits Female, Nonbinary, or College Sophomore Students Hardest

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School analysis shows that not all groups are uniformly affected by the pressure, and those that are should be offered additional resources and support.

Academic stress has a greater negative impact on the mental well-being of college students who are female, nonbinary, or in the second year of a 4-year program than other students, according to the results of a study from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Although investigators found correlations between perceived academic stress and poor mental well-being for all students, those specific groups felt the effects the most.

“This study shows that college students are not uniformly impacted by academic stress or pandemic-related stress and that certain groups should be offered additional resources and support,” Xue Ming, PhD, MD, a professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said in a statement. “The findings support prior studies that have shown that nonbinary adults face adverse mental health outcomes when compared to male- and female-identifying adults.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, aimed to determine if a relationship exists between academic stress and mental well-being, as well as to identify groups that could experience these effects most. Additionally, investigators explored how the perception of the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting stress levels.

Investigators included 843 individuals in the study from aged 18 and 30 years old in different academic years.

They surveyed individuals using questions from the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (SWEMWBS), which measured mental well-being and positive mental health, and from the Perception of Academic Stress Scale (PAS), which assessed sources of perceived academic stress and measured 3 main stressors: academic expectations; academic self-perceptions; and exams and workload.

Investigators found that students who are nonbinary reported the highest levels of stress and worst psychological well-being, followed by females. Both groups also reported higher COVID-19 related stress than males.

Additionally, sophomores reported higher academic stress levels and worse mental well-being than those in other academic years.

Further, students who were in their first year scored the best on the PAS, including stress resulting from COVID-19.

Investigators thought that sophomores were the most affected group, because they explore different majors, manage heavier workloads, and start taking more advanced courses,. Other factors could include increased studying, fewer coping mechanisms, and less established social support groups than students who are further into their academic careers.

“Colleges should consider offering tailored mental health resources to these groups to improve students' stress levels and psychological well-being,” Ming said. “To raise awareness and destigmatize mental health, colleges can distribute confidential validated assessments, such as the PAS and SWEMWBS, in class and teach students to self-score so they can monitor their stress and mental well-being.”

Investigators also recommended that colleges provide stress management and coping strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapies, mindfulness meditation, and stress-reduction peer support groups, to help students build resilience.

Reference

How college students perceive academic stress affects their mental well-being. News release. Science Daily. August 9, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220809194856.htm

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