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Don’t ignore end-of-term stress

Feeling anxious about the end of term? You’re not alone. So is every student around you. Research led by Erin Barker, professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and researcher at the Centre for Research in Human Development, has revealed that first years have an increased risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol addiction. Indeed, the early years in university dovetail with the transition from late adolescence to early adulthood—a period of major change and tension stemming from the need to balance studies, a part-time job and a busier social life. But what about the end of term in particular can so significantly impact a student’s mental health? The pressure of finals.

Depressive symptoms appear in students who are overwhelmed by their assignments and exams.

Not everyone reacts to the stress of final exams in the same way. Depressive symptoms appear in students who are overwhelmed by their assignments and exams and not in those who feel in control. In addition, when Professor Barker assessed the data collected from undergrads over a four-year period, she realized that, contrary to popular belief, gloom and negative thoughts can spell success. For students who are fundamentally happy, their passing dark thoughts signal a challenge to overcome. They channel their stress and negativity to get down to work and earn higher grades, while those who are essentially negative don’t do well.

Erin Barker notes the importance of making psychological and educational resources available to university students to help them quickly manage their stress and moods. She is currently working to determine other risk factors that may explain why some young people struggle more than others. Universities could use her findings to better identify and support those who are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.