College Students' Stress under Current Economic Downturn

By Guo, Yuh-Jen; Wang, Shu-Ching et al. | College Student Journal, September 2011 | Go to article overview
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College Students' Stress under Current Economic Downturn

Guo, Yuh-Jen, Wang, Shu-Ching, Johnson, Veronica, Diaz, Marcela, College Student Journal

College students are constantly influenced by multiple stressors from different aspects of their lives and the society. Life and academic stress often generate difficulties and impact college students' mental health. College students have been stressed by intensive demands of developmental and academic tasks. With current economic contraction, many additional economic stressors could be added onto college students' existing stress levels. This study investigated the perceived economic stress among college students and focused on the differential impacts perceived by both genders and four grade levels. We surveyed 560 undergraduate students to assess their perceived economic stress, especially on employment conditions, economic outlook, and financial burden. Our results reveal statistically significant differences of perceived economic stress among students of grade levels but not between genders. Our research indicates that both male and female college students perceive an equivalent magnitude of economic stress and senior college students perceive highest economic stress.


Stress has been a constant factor existing in our daily functioning (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Viner, 1999). Downbeat life events, upbeat life changes, and excessive life demands are stressors that directly or indirectly associate with dysfunctional psychological and physiological symptoms (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Joseph, Mynard, & Mayall, 2000). Literature has reported a correlation between stress and physical illness, such as cardiovascular disorders (Theorell, 1974) and cancer (Jacobs & Charles, 1980). Different types of psychological dysfunction, such as depression (Benjaminsen, 1981), posttraumatic stress disorder (McPherson-Sexton, 2006), and substance abuse (Lindenberg, Gendrop, & Reiskin, 1993) are deemed to have roots in stress.

College students need to cope with stress from different aspects of their lives (Mangold, Veraza, Kinkier, & Kinney, 2007). Adjusting to college life, fulfilling developmental tasks, and dealing with unexpected societal events have raised students' stress levels and contributed to the development of college students' physiological problems (Serlachius, Hamer, & Wardle, 2007) and psychological difficulties (Bell & D'Zurilla, 2009).

Academic stress is known as an essential stressor of college life (Deroma, Leach, & Leverett, 2009; Ross, Niebling, & Heckert, 1999). Transition from high school to college and from youths to independent adults (Serlachius, Hamer, & Wardle, 2007), and life stress deliver perceived stress with various degrees of intensity and magnitudes (Lunney, 2006; Sowa, 1992).

Current economic downturn is around for the past couple of years (Catalano, 2009). The adverse impacts of economic downturn on mental health have become a social issue rather than an isolated or personal condition (Jahoda, 1988). Reports continue to reveal adverse impacts of economic stress that describe the increasing perceived stress (Cokes & Kornblum, 2010) and the potential pathological reactions to economic-induced stress (Fujita & Rao, 2009; Paton, 2008 & 2010; Sifin, 2009). Literature has supported the relationships between economic-induced stress and mental or physical health (Catalano, 1991; Catalano & Dooley, 1983).

Unstable economic condition and unemployment have contributed to behavioral difficulties (Catalano & Dooley, 1981; Catalano, Snowden, Shumway, & Kessell, 2007; Dooley, Brook, & Catalano, 1987), less development of self-esteem (Dooley & Prause, 1995), substance abuse (Dragun, Russo, & Rumboldt, 2006), increasing needs of psychiatric care (Catalano & Hartig, 2004), and suicidal behavior (Platt & Hawton, 2000).

Even though they are shielded by the college campuses, college students are inevitably exposed to the distressful economic phenomena. Giving their existing academic and life stress, college students now have to spend energy to cope with the economic stress.

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