MARKIDA SCOTLAND |
ST. CROIX — Even though I knew it was coming, I wasn’t prepared for how it would feel.
I cried every day during the final semester of my undergraduate year. Between current expectations and the nearing future I realized that I wasn’t ready to graduate.
I wasn’t the only one.
Senior year is romanticized. Seniors are expected to have their lives planned out. This was what they have been preparing for the moment they left high school and entered institutions of higher learning.
These students are expected to be bold and brave, bearing smiles and excitement for the coming of May when it will all be over. Few realize that, while exciting, senior year is overwhelmingly stressful. After several years, their lives are summed up in a month.
May doesn’t mean the same thing anymore for graduating seniors. It is a month of changes.
Dr. Aletha Baumann, associate professor of psychology at the University of the Virgin Islands, recounted a situation where a student broke down in front of her.
“She wasn’t sad about going off on her own or finding a job,” Baumann said. “She cried because she just didn’t want to leave UVI. This was her home.”
Graduation is a big transition that often causes students to feel depressed or anxious.
Will they find a secure job right out of college?
What do they do with their degree?
Will they find a job within that degree?
After finding a job they must now budget, decide living arrangements, make new friends and say goodbye to old ones. It is a period of leaving the familiar and meeting the unfamiliar.
In a 2014 article by US Health News, Vicki Hays, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Michigan, said graduation depression is more common than many think.
“I think it’s much harder actually leaving college than it is coming to college,” she said. “Leaving is something completely new. For most people, they have not been without the structure of organized education ever in their lives.”
For some students, the problem wasn’t leaving college. The problem was the process in order to leave there.
Lorie Jeffers graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology last May. According to her, there were personal points of depression for herself and her fellow classmates.
“I know there was not one person in my class who did not express their frustration with their final semester in one way or another,” Jeffers said. “I remember tears from some, hopelessness from others.”
Jeffers also said that the stress levels among herself and her peers were unstable.
“In between our moments of despair and depression were lots of moments of triumphs and victories. However sometimes it felt like for every victory there was a setback,” she said.
A 2001 article in The Guardian stated that while one in four students suffer depression during their university years, there aren’t any official statistics for the post-graduation nor pre-graduation period.
In the article, Mike Burton, of the Sussex University Counseling service, said that this group “slips through the system.” These students become indivisible from any other adult going through transitions and even counselors are unaware of the problem.
Patricia Towal, director of counseling and career services at the University of the Virgin Islands, said that while students do come in for counseling, she wished there were more.
“A lot of students don’t understand what counseling can really do for them,” Towal said. ” I wish more students would seek out what they already paid for and it’s one of the few times you’ll get free counseling in your life.”
Baumann also agreed that students in their final semester need that extra counseling to cope with their difficulties.
“This is the time people should be talking to counselors about life especially if you’ve never been stressed like this before,” Baumann said.
Many students, however, admit that they do not seek counseling in their final year and that is mostly because they handle the feelings of stress and anxiety on their own.
Deidre Dubois, senior psychology major at the university, said that rather than see a counselor, she took a day off.
“I was feeling very overwhelmed,” Dubois said. ” I did not go to class and I did not attend my internship for a week either. I was told to relax before I broke down.”
Dubois also said that between school, her daughter, and other personal struggles, she felt like jumping off of a cliff.
Another psychology senior, Shanah Bannis, also didn’t see a counselor to handle her stress.
“I just got over it. I’m not at the point where I have breakdowns anymore,” Bannis said. “I used to freak out over not failing and I just went numb to it.”
However, despite the call for counseling, Aletha Baumann felt that many of the students were not at clinical levels of depression and anxiety, which is why there are very few studies on the topic.
According to Baumann, many students often use the word “depressed” as a way to express unfamiliar stress and sadness.
“The senior year of any program is really intense. You’ve got your internship, practicum, senior project, and all other classes you didn’t want to take,” Baumann said. ” Those extreme pressures can cause you to feel depressed, not clinically depressed, just very sad and overwhelmed.”
Towal agreed that many of the students appeared to show signs of stress rather than clinical depression or anxiety.
“For most graduates they don’t get that closure because even though their educational world has closed their professional world is beginning,” Towal said.”It’s actually ‘eustress,’ which is good stress, like starting a new job, or moving to a new place. It’s stressful because it’s new and there are a lot of decisions to make.”
“I think it’s that not knowing, that ‘what’s the best choice for me?’, ‘how can I optimize my money, time and effort to get the best degree I can?’ that causes stress because it’s open ended,” Towal said. “It is overwhelming because you have to live by your decision and the consequences.”
However, while the students at the University of the Virgin Islands are overwhelmed, Baumann believes that they are the type of students that overcome easily.
“Students, particularly here, are very resilient,” Baumann said. “So, even when they say ‘This is it I’m not doing it,’ oftentimes what they need is just reassurance that they are on the right track and they can do it.”
With the help of great advisers and peers, the struggles of coursework and the nearing future become minuscule troubles.
If it weren’t for the constant reassurance and kind words from my professors I might have given into the pressures of my senior semester and crumbled.
Thanks to them I, and many of my peers, will not only be graduating in May, we will be evolving and becoming ready for the world after graduation.
Published in the Virgin Islands Daily News on Wednesday, April 29, 2015