Finals stress begins to set in

Isabel Ward

Cramming for tests, pulling all-nighters and worrying about failure are just some of the reasons college students at Sacramento State are on edge the last few weeks of the semester.

Stress levels are on the rise for college students as they tackle end-of-the-semester finals but, for some, the pressure of college is the tipping point of a mental breakdown or even contemplation of suicide.   

Kalyn Coppedge, health educator for the Student Health Services at The Well at Sac State, said students experience multiple stressors in college.

“For Sac State students, it’s often the balance of work, home, school and social life,” Coppedge said. “Students here are doing so much and it can become overwhelming for students during stressful times such as finals.”

Graduate student Emily Flitsch said a lot of the pressure of college comes from trying to get the best grades.

“I’ve definitely heard of and I’ve seen people on campus who just look like they’re about to have a mental breakdown from all the stress,” Flitsch said. “Finals are all crammed into one week and graduation is pending. Everything is riding on these last couple tests.”

But licensed psychologist and Counseling and Psychological Services Clinical Director Karen Durst said some of these stress issues – along with medical and mental health issues, loneliness or isolation and substance use – could be some of reasons leading to contemplation of suicide for college students. 

“Suicide is complex. The reasons are always very personalized and are almost always due to multiple reasons,” Durst said. “The meaning behind one’s reasons for suicide is always of importance.”

According to the National Institute of Health’s research, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

In a four-year study of college students from their first year in college until four years after, the National Institute of Health researchers found of 1,253 students, 58 participants reported an attempt or plan of suicide. Researchers confirmed 10 cases were during college.  

Junior liberal studies major Sunshine Vang said she knows of people who have experienced some kind of breakdown as a result of failure in a class.

“From personal experience with friends and stuff, they’re afraid that (if) they don’t have a really good GPA, they will get dropped out (of their class) or they will fail the class, and there goes the money spent on that class,” Vang said.

National Institute of Health research states college is a transitional development period where people are going into unfamiliar territory and experiencing both “internal and external pressures to succeed academically – especially with the financial burden of cost on families.”

Flitsch said professors expect more from you in the graduate program and that has intensified stress for her.

“I think that our professors do a pretty good job of giving a study guide to follow along with, but I know in some of our classes we haven’t had a study guide and we kind of feel like we’re thrown out into all this information,” Flitsch said.

Graduate student Marisa Acosta said because the graduate program at Sac State does add a lot of pressure, students have to be confident they can handle it.

“I think that it taps into your pre-existing coping skill. So whether it’s withdrawal or avoidance, or you cry –  I think it just depends (on) how you normally cope,” Acosta said. “If it’s maladaptive, then you probably will have a breakdown.”

Coppedge said students who have negative coping skills are of great concern to the mental health department.

“Our peer health educators in Active Minds have spoken with many students who feel that due to pressure to succeed they have developed problems with anxiety, depression and or substance abuse,” Coppedge said.  “Our goal is to refer them on to counseling services so that students can receive help from mental health professionals.”

Counseling and Psychological Services case manager and applied suicide intervention trainer Katie Hodgson said some techniques to help protect against the risk of suicide or stress include exercise, meditation, deep breathing, social interaction, reaching out for support, hobbies, talking with trusted sources or loved ones and utilizing medication if indicated by a medical professional.

Durst added it is important to eat right and get enough sleep.

Hodgson said there are two ways to manage stress during finals.

“First and foremost, ask for support if you are feeling stressed. We are more likely to successfully manage our stress if we have more than one brain working on the project,” Hodgson said. “Second, don’t wait until finals week to identify and practice stress management techniques that are unique to your common stressors. If we practice these techniques when we are not in crisis, they can become more like a habit and we are better able to tap into them when things get rough.”

Acosta said breaking up with her boyfriend this semester was a major stressor in her life, but added that college is really a matter of sink or swim.

“It’s been the roughest semester for me, personally,” Acosta said. “And that’s hard when you’re having some personal struggle (and) trying to keep your head afloat.”