Alejandra- Mechanical Engineering — 03 February 2014
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We All Have Problems: Mental Health of an Engineering Student

Any regular college student will tell you the same phrase: “I’m stressed.” Walk into any common study area such as the library or a study lounge, and you can see it on everyone’s face. The mental stress and lack of sleep gets portrayed in physical aches, slouched backs and tense shoulders. Sometimes the stress induced from classes, part time jobs and personal issues can develop into more pressing issues: depression, anxiety, eating disorders and many more. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) says that at least 8.4% of full-time college students aged 18-22 have experienced a major depressive episode. So this leads me to wonder—are there any trends within specific groups in the college demographic which experience more depression and anxiety or mental illnesses than others?

I immediately looked at the engineering students. As one of those students myself, I know firsthand what it’s like to experience a panic attack in the middle of a perfectly calm situation. I would get hit with this overwhelming sensation of stress from all my required assignments, anxiety from whether or not I thought I had the ability to finish those assignments and fear of disappointing myself and my peers.  After doing a bit of research, I found that the results weren’t really surprising.  What I found more shocking was that this severe issue among college students doesn’t get the attention or the treatment it deserves.

A survey by the American College Health Association (2009) found that forty-six percent of college students said they felt “things were hopeless” at least once in the previous 12 months. Nearly a third of those students had been so depressed that it was difficult to function.  The University Of Waterloo conducted several surveys in order to analyze the mental health of engineering students. Their result showed that overall, considering both genders, the program with the lowest mental health was Waterloo’s electrical engineering field due to the competition between students. The program with the best mental health was system design engineering because of the flexibility of the curriculum and a strong sense of teamwork within classmates. Also, the finding that really hit home with me was that women in engineering programs have overall lower mental health than males. In addition, women in mechanical engineering have the lowest mental health in comparison to all other programs.

Being a female in the ME program, this makes so much sense to me. This tough field is classically dominated by males and that has not changed in the past 50 years. This fact alone leads to emotional problems that affect female engineers. “Being the minority in most classes, especially in mechanical engineering where the gender bias is severe, makes most women feel like they need to prove themselves to their professors, [and] their male counterparts. Most of the professors are male and the delivery of material is tailored towards men. Lastly, there is a lack of female companionship and there are high levels of competitiveness within the women in classes, which contributes to feelings of isolation and loneliness,” says the Waterloo study.

The more pressing question is not who is the biggest victim, but how can you personally deal with this pressure, and where can you seek professional help if it all becomes too much to handle? Here at Florida Tech, we have the Counseling and Psychological Services Center(CAPS). There you can seek help about anything ranging from relationship problems, study problems or depression. Your problems can be expressed with full anonymity. There are also other coping mechanisms for stressed students. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to set entire nights aside and forget about homework and studying; I just let go. I watch movies, drink tea and maybe do some arts and crafts. This really helps me release all my stress and worries, which leaves me really refreshed to take on the next day. It also really helps to sit down and talk it out with someone. Hang in there Panthers and don’t let stress rule your life!

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this to light. Remembering my college experience, the statistics don’t surprise me.

    • Yeah, same. It’s really rough being a college student, and there’s so much pressure as an engineer. I thought it was pretty fascinating so that’s why I wanted to write about it. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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