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Why are CEGEP students so stressed out?

Pressure to succeed, fear of failure, sleep issues, tendencies to worry too much, and family conflicts occurred in more than one third of cases.
Click to play video: 'Anxiety in CEGEPS'
Anxiety in CEGEPS
WATCH ABOVE: A new study suggests high levels of stress and anxiety among CEGEP students in Quebec. Dawson Psychologist Kelly Ann Morel sits down with Senior Anchor Jamie Orchard to discuss why this is happening and what can be done to help – Jan 12, 2016

MONTREAL – Psychological stress can stem from many sources, but recent studies show that schools might be in the hot seat. CEGEP students go through a barrage of assessments throughout the semester ranging from written and oral exams to group projects and presentations.

Over a study of eight CEGEPS and 12,200 students, 35.1 per cent suffered from anxiety often or all the time, and 17.4 per cent suffer from large amounts psychological stress.

Kelly Ann Morel, a psychologist at Dawson College argued that the surprisingly high numbers might have been a result of the decline of mental health stigma – with more students opening up and talking about their problems than in previous studies – but that does not negate the results themselves.

The primary causes of anxiety according to the CAPRES study were: pressure to succeed, fear of failure, sleep issues, tendencies to worry too much and family conflicts; each of which occurred in more than one third of cases.

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“We see more anxiety around exam time,” Morel said, but the push to finish school quickly could also be a factor.

“We see a lot of anxiety for students when it comes to deadlines to apply to university. Very often students feel like they are supposed to continue their education no matter what and they don’t necessarily know what they want to do.”

The negative effect on mental health brought upon by high levels of stress can develop into depression, panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, and dropping out of classes. Morel said that the accessibility to on-site help is crucial for students who suffer from stress-related issues, the study confirms that. More than three quarters of the students surveyed had made use of their CEGEP’s help services.

This raises the question: Where does the problem lie? For Morel, it’s the demands put upon the students either from the education system or society itself.

“These students are working harder than ever before, they are expected to have information at their fingertips,” she said.

“There’s no room for failure at all for these students, they feel that anything that they don’t do well, rather than learn from it, is just going to set them back.”

The desire to succeed is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, but this can overwhelm students who follow a career path that does not necessarily interest them.

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“Very often we have students who are kind of in the wrong program but are trying to do the right thing rather than what makes them happy,” Morel said.

Stress can cause students to close off from others and avoid talking about their issues. Opening a conversation – be it with a colleague, friend, parent or counselor –  is the best way to work through issues and devise solutions. She added a piece of advice for those entering a new phase in their education:

“I encourage parents to allow their kids to be able to explore and figure out who they are and who they want to be and what they are interested in, because it is much easier to learn when you are doing something you love.”

Watch the full interview on Focus Montreal.

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