Colleges must teach stress management
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That the number of suicides among students is within the expected rate and that many students come to our colleges and universities with naive notions about academic achievement should not let administrators or faculty off the hook in terms of our obligation to prepare our students for successful futures ("High Levels of Stress at Carnegie Mellon Decried," Jan. 28).
Every year I watch wide-eyed and big-hearted students move into our freshman dorms. They come with dreams of preparing for careers that will have significant and positive effects on themselves, their families and countless others. We equip them with the tools and skills that will allow them to do that. We may even point out the difficulties that they will inevitably encounter -- endless paperwork, unreasonable administrators or boards, office politics, inadequate budgets and the other obstacles that we commonly experience in our work. What we don't do is equip them with the skills that they will need to effectively deal with the stress that these obstacles create. We leave that to them to learn. Some may learn but others will not. They will simply go on living with health-debilitating stress and anxiety or the effects of self-medication through overeating or chemical abuse.
I remember a student describing all of the factors that lead to "burnout" and all of its symptoms which he learned about in class. When I asked him what he learned about preventing "burnout," he stared at me for a long time before he replied, "Nothing."
Self-care should not be an extra skill that students (or employees) are taught if they seek it out at our counseling centers. It should be part of all that we teach. What student planning a career in business or law or social work or any other field does not need to learn the skills necessary to deal with the many stresses that she or he will face? Our future teachers, nurses, therapists, researchers, entrepreneurs and soldiers deserve to be equipped with all the skills that they will need to avoid burnout and bitterness, and to live effective and healthy lives.
The writer is a professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
First Published February 7, 2013 12:00 am