Volume 93, Issue 35

Tuesday, November 2, 1999


The stress of a first-year student

Gently massaging the backside of health care cutbacks

The stress of a first-year student

©Photo by Chris Chaconas

By Daril Miller
Gazette Writer

Red, bloodshot eyes staring at a computer screen which should have been turned off hours ago, while numerous crumpled coffee cups pile up around a desk is a painful, yet typical reality for most first-year students.

At this time of year, many first-year students are cramming for midterms and pulling all-nighters for the first time in their university careers. This type of stress, added to day to day pressures leaves students feeling like they're gasping for air.

Cheri Sanders, an administrative assistant at the London Distress Centre, a hotline for the community as well as Western students, referred to the nature of phone calls received by the centre as wide-ranging. "These calls not only deal with concerns over school, but with being away from home for the very first time," she said.

Since September the LDC, in addition to receiving calls from post-secondary students, has also taken calls regarding suicide, but not specifically from students. As Christmas exams get closer, Sanders added the number of stress-related calls are bound to increase as students begin to worry about telling their parents about their midterm marks.

Apart from the distress centre, however, Western students can also find help on campus.

The Student Development Centre offers counselling services, varying from psychological services, learning skills services, career services and employment services.

Jack Russel, a psychological and career counsellor at the SDC said the two services most first-year students come to rely upon are the psychological and career services.

Russel said first-year students who make use of these programs have problems in their family concerning dysfunction, pressure over marks in school and even breaking up with loved ones.

"Most first-year students come to university and realize that they don't know what they want to do. They also need help in choosing the type of degree that will be best for them," he said.

The SDC also works with students to help them develop confidence in an interview situation while illustrating what employers look for in terms of new employees.

Aside from Western, other universities are also responding to the increasing needs of first-year students with inventive new programs. Trent Unplugged '99, an initiative for students at Trent University, focuses on helping first-years adjust to university life and meeting the requirements of a heavier work load.

Lyn Neufeld, the acting principle of Trail College at Trent, said the program involves all parts of the campus and different psychological studies.

"Student mentors, Trent staff and faculty talk with students about the university, philosophize about the institution itself, the nature of knowledge at the university and also, they discuss how to write," Neufeld explained.

During the afternoons of Unplugged '99 special interest activities take place which include fencing, journalism, guitar and creative writing workshops, Neufeld added.

Maxine Mann, the co-ordinator of the Trent Counselling and Career Centre also commented on this program. "The thrust of Unplugged '99 is to try and develop the creativity of the students and to also link that creativity to the real world," Mann said. With these new programs, Trent is hoping to make the transition between high school and university easier while also cutting down on the stress felt by first-year students, she added.

While this transition tends to be trying, the years after university are more difficult, said Gerry Harrington, director of the Suicide Information and Education Centre in Calgary.

Harrington said in the post-university years the suicide rate is higher in males than females, as there is greater pressure on males to find a place in society. They are also scared of not meeting society's standards and tend to live more abusive lifestyles.

Harrington added although there is a lot of pressure on women as well, their suicide rate is lower, as less lethal methods of suicide are generally used which often prove unsuccessful.

"You'll see kids with a masters flipping hamburgers. There's a lot of educated people out there who are not recognized in society. And a lot of times kids are pushed into the academic fields when they would be happier in a trade or a blue collar job," he said. "There's a lot of snobism out there and kids go through university when they don't even want to."

Harrington also added the suicide rate among people 15 to 24 years of age began declining in 1988 with the stabilized economy. It had increased steadily during the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Dan Boscarino, a first-year history student at Western gave his own perspective on the transition from high school to university. "During the first week I was very nervous, but I met a lot of people and that made things much easier. I also felt that high school prepared me well for university."

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