college life

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Study Tracks Yik Yak App To Learn More About College Drinking And Drug Use

The Yik Yak app, lower left, is seen on an iPhone on Nov. 11, 2015. (Ronald Lizik/AP)

The Yik Yak app, lower left, is seen on an iPhone on Nov. 11, 2015. (Ronald Lizik/AP)

Consider this message, most likely posted by a college student in or around Brandeis University near Boston: “I just remembered I have a 4loko in my minifridge. Guess who’s getting sloppy day drunk tomorrow!”

Good luck finding the Four Loko fanatic. The post is from Yik Yak, an anonymous, free social media platform popular on college campuses.

Even so, a recent study analyzing Yik Yak posts gathered from 120 campuses suggests that tracking these messages does have an upside: Public health experts say it may ultimately help them learn more about issues like alcohol and substance use.

Over the span of one month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Colorado at Boulder found 2,047 health-related yaks — the term for posts on Yik Yak — dealing with themes like smoking, drinking and drug use.

“Because it’s anonymous, people disclose things about themselves that they might not publicly post, either on Twitter or even necessarily to their doctors,” said Michael Paul, an assistant professor and founder of the Information Science Department at UC Boulder,  in an interview.

While big data collected from social media has been used to study public health, such as influenza surveillance through Google search queries and Twitter, the field is relatively new and Paul’s study is the first to look at public health using Yik Yak. Continue reading

Anguished Reflections Of A College Crisis Counselor: A Student ‘On The Rooftop’

(Romain Caplanne/Flickr)

(Romain Caplanne/Flickr)

By John Rosario-Perez
Guest Contributor

John Rosario-Perez (Courtesy)

John Rosario-Perez (Courtesy)

We live and die for the weekend. Nowhere is this more true than on college campuses, where students are in hot pursuit of the pleasure principle. Chasing excess is a sport as well as a rite of passage. But the 72 hours from Friday night to Monday morning can also be among the most perilous, a portal to despair with no exit. A college crisis clinician for eight years, I encountered many students who suffered the weekend as exiles.

Over time I listened to dozens of anguished stories, so many that I could almost predict their twists and turns. Some were as lurid as a tabloid headline. Others landed faintly on the ear, a circuitous tale with multiple digressions before arriving at the dreaded destination — pain. Their narratives fell under many rubrics — crushed idealism, first love gone awry, dreams vanquished by failure. Betrayal.

To the casual observer, such confidences might seem transient and overblown, hysterical laments tied to youthful indiscretions. But to those overcome by despair, isolation can often feel permanent and unending, a life sentence without reprieve.

2 AM

Their calls often come in the middle of the night. By force of habit, I sleep restively, my ear cocked in anticipation of the mobile pager’s trill. Each time it summons me, I try to suppress a vague sense of dread and the panicked feeling that I don’t really know what to do despite my years of experience. A rush of adrenaline gives me a heightened sense of alertness and danger but also of being put on the spot.

Like so many other nights, I rouse myself from half-sleep and strain to collect myself in the dark. The phone lies on the bedside table, but my fingers, as reluctant as an arthritic’s, resist reaching for it. After speaking with the campus police, I dial a number.

“Hello. You called the crisis line?” I ask. “How can I help you?”

“It’s my roommate, Kevin. I’m not sure, but I think he’s suicidal,” a trembling voice says. “What should I do?” Continue reading

Report: More College Freshmen Say They’re ‘Frequently’ Feeling Depressed

If you envision college life as an idyllic, carefree time filled with studies of classic literature and pondering the meaning of life at 2 a.m., think again. The reality of college today can be harsh.

For freshmen, in particular, navigating a new social, emotional and academic landscape can be extremely stressful. So it’s not terribly surprising that a new national survey of first-year college students finds, among other things, that more freshmen say they’re “frequently” feeling depressed.

According to the survey of more than 150,000 U.S. students conducted by researchers at UCLA, the emotional state of these young adults appears to be deteriorating:

In 2014, students’ self-rated emotional health dropped to 50.7%, its lowest level ever and 2.3 percentage points lower than the entering cohort of 2013. Additionally, the proportion of students who “frequently” felt depressed rose to 9.5%, 3.4 percentage points higher than in 2009 when feeling “frequently” depressed reached its lowest point. Self-rated emotional health and feeling depressed are very highly correlated…”

(Chrissy Hunt/Flickr)

(Chrissy Hunt/Flickr)

The survey suggests that students who say they’re depressed also tend to be more disconnected with college life in general:

Students who felt depressed more frequently reported behaviors reflecting disengagement. While these behaviors were not as widespread, students who were “frequently” depressed were about twice as likely to “frequently” come late to class (13.9%, compared to 7.2% for “occasionally” depressed and 5.5% for “not at all” depressed) and “frequently” fall asleep in class (14.1%, compared to 6.2% “occasionally” and 4.4% “not at all”). Further, more than half (56.6%) of the “frequently” depressed students reported that they were “frequently” bored in class, compared to 39.9% of those who reported being “occasionally” depressed and only 31.3% of those who were “not at all” depressed. They were also less likely to “frequently” engage with their classmates by studying with other students or working with other students on group projects.

I asked Steve Schlozman, associate director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, for his thoughts on these findings. First he said, the word “depression” has become so ubiquitous in the popular vernacular that it’s not always clear in these kinds of surveys whether kids are describing clinical depression or simply the normal ebb and flow of emotional stress. Even so, he says, with regard to increased distress among college kids, “we are reaping what we sow.”

He explains further:

The pressure we put on high school kids to get into college and the pressure then that college follows up with is highly correlated with increased rates of emotional distress that can become full-blown depression. Also, the age of onset of depression is the exactly the age of onset of college — there’s a perfect storm of stressors. Finally, there’s a greater willingness to come forward, which is good. So, despite the fact that we’re using the word ‘depression’ a little more glibly, I’d rather have that and then rule out clinical depression through appropriate channels, like college health services, than miss cases that can lead to real suffering and possibly even death.

Continue reading