What Can We Do About This? 82% are Depressed!

On the counter at work this morning was the February 13, 2015 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. This is what I saw:

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Seriously – does that freak you out a bit? It does me! 82% driven but depressed? Yikes. Those are scary statistics.  The  survey found that college students party less…BUT worry more about money. While they are worrying about money and their course load, they are driven to reach higher levels of financial success. “Freshmen who indicated they wanted to earn a doctorate or professional degree also was at a new peak.”(Click here to read more.)”The survey suggests that the incoming freshmen ‘were buckling down prior to college and taking their academics more seriously,’ said Kevin Eagan, interim managing director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, which has administered the poll for 49 years.” My own son fits right into this category because he has the desire to obtain a Ph.D. in Physics. Positive? Yes. Driven? Yes. Depressed? Thankfully, he’s not depressed because he has a healthy balance in his life of work, school, church, fun, and friends. According to the article, 9.5% of the students surveyed said they were often depressed. Students seem to be more driven, busier than ever, yet unhappy.

So…I asked the student workers in my office…”What do you think of this? Do you think students at our school are depressed and why?”  One young gave his frank answer – those that may feel depressed or stressed are also the ones that are busy but less connected to people. He felt that the students that have been at our school since freshman year and have made connections tend to be happier than the ones transferring in who are less connected on the social level. I’m not talking social networking. I’m talking real connections…face-to-face friends they hang out with and enjoy.

I thought about my own students in the School of Education. They are on a 4 year credential program. It’s an awesome program that allows students to finish their degree AND obtain a California teaching credential all within 4 years. You can imagine – it’s a schedule that is cram packed and intensive. I see students that are stressed and exhausted.

What can we do about this? As teachers, we first must understand our audience. We need to know that our students have a strong desire to succeed yet may also be stressed and tired.  By looking at the reasons for some of the depression (worry, mental health, and lack of time for social events), we can find ways to help relieve some of this in our courses.

     1. Help students make connections. Allow for some collaboration time in class. Let students talk, work with a partner or group, discuss issues and problem solve together.

     2. Make learning fun.  I grappled with this as a new college instructor. I came from an elementary teaching background where I loved making learning fun for my students. Yet somehow when I entered the higher ed campus, I “thought” I had to lecture. Why? I don’t even know! One day it dawned on me – why am I doing this? Why not do something engaging that students will enjoy?  To be completely honest, I still grapple with how to get across my content across in an engaging manner, allow for collaboration and group work, and make class interesting for a tired group of students.

     3. Teach like a pirate. Dave Burgess wrote the book and I highly recommend it. It’s an acronym for:

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 9.08.08 AM     4.  Use Remind. Remind is a service that allows teachers to send a text message to students without sharing phone numbers. It’s an “opt in” from students…so they do not have to participate if they don’t want to. It’s easy to schedule messages in advance and then forget it! Schedule important due date reminders (remember – our students are crazy busy!). Or, schedule a friendly, “Hi, I hope your day is going well.”

5. Give exit tickets. Find out how students are doing. Ask them how the course is going. Find out if they have questions, concerns, or need help. Invite them to your office for a chat. Get to know them.

We’re all busy. But let’s not be so busy that we don’t get to know our students.

Take time to share a smile with a student today!