We All Have Problems: Mental Health of Engineering Students

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 percent 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’m particularly interested in the mental health of engineering students.

Firsthand experience of a panic attack

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.

College students felt “things were hopeless”

mental of engineering students

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 of engineering students in comparison to all other programs.

Female students have a tough time

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.

Asking for help

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

    1. 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!

  2. college is tough, my thoughts

    1 – study about 3x harder than you think you need to
    2 – eat, sleep, study and workout regularly, both aerobic and strength building.
    3 – Get as much free help as possible, office hours, free tutoring, classmates, internet, blogs, etc. GOOGLE
    4 – try to forget how easy school “used” to be – hard, I know!
    5 – think of your inner voice as a coach advising you on how to proceed. So when you think “crap, this is hard!”, imagine if a leader would say that to their troops. A leader would say “Troops, a great challenge lies ahead, and we must rise to the occasion and overcome!”
    6 – Get better at rest and relaxation. I used to not think about this much, as I have enjoyed/endured prolonged periods of down time throughout my life. But when you are pushing yourself 110%+, you need to be able to unwind all of that as well.

    PS – Attitude is a choice.Try to smile and just make it happen. Those with far less have done it before you.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment… I know you’re just saying a few things you can think of, but i really needed to read something like this. I’m having a rough time, but what you said spoke to me. I’m gonna save this.

      Hope you feel good that you helped a guy out!

  3. I am a senior ME student–I know what you mean!! I feel like hating everything and everybody roughly once a week. Feels great to finish, though; like I’m a newborn.

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