The Price of Perfection

Story By: Rachel Gossen

When she stepped foot on campus on her first day of freshman year, Erin Fleming could not contain her excitement of finally being done with high school and going to college.

That didn’t last long. As the semester progressed, she began to skip classes and meals, and stayed in her dorm room avoiding her friends. She knew something had gone awry, and she knew she had to address it immediately.

“College was a big change from high school for me,” Fleming said. “I felt immense pressure in all of my classes, as well as my social life, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

So she turned to some place she thought she could get help: Chapman’s Student Psychological Counseling Services Center.

“It was the only resource on campus I knew of,” said Fleming.

A 2014 report by the American College Counseling Association found that issues related to students’ mental health is increasing across the nation. In the last five years, 274 schools have seen a 94 percent increase in students with mental health issues. Chapman is no exception.

Due to a 59 percent increase in students seeking help since 2010, Chapman has seen a greater demand for counselors and created a currently 30-person long waitlist.

In recent years, students have flocked to the counseling center to find any form of help they can to combat mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, which keep them from fully living their lives. It is unknown what has caused the growth in mental illness, but Dr. Jeanne Walker, Director of Student Psychological Counseling Services, attributes it to increased stress, as well as increased awareness of mental illness.

“Students work hard to get into college, but the stress doesn’t stop there. There is constant pressure and high expectations from parents, professors and students themselves which causes many to seek out help,” she said.

Junior english major Caroline McNally expressed how she has felt the pressure increase over the course of her school career.

“A lot of my anxiety in high school came from feeling like whatever I did wasn’t good enough,” McNally said. “Everyone at Chapman is very high achieving so there’s a lot of pressure to build your resume. It always feels like someone is doing better than you.”

In the past four years, anxiety has surpassed depression and become the number one diagnosis for Chapman students who are treated at the psychological services center, Walker said. In 2015, 70 percent of students seeking help were diagnosed with anxiety, according to data recorded by Walker. She associates the increase in anxiety with the increased need to have good grades.

"Over 75 percent of the students we see have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher,” Walker said.

McNally agrees with Walker and said she has seen the pressure and stress for a perfect life turn into anxiety in her friends.

“I feel like everyone is working non-stop to accomplish as much as they can, and when I get to hang out with people, all we do is complain about how busy we are,” she said.

Some students deny that they are feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression and will avoid getting help, but for junior digital arts major Erin Fleming, the counseling center saved her life. After waiting a few weeks, Fleming was able to see a counselor for the maximum eight sessions allowed.

“I’d been having thoughts of self-harm and I didn’t want to ask my parents for help,” she said, “It was an incredibly approachable and accessible resource that made a huge difference in my freshman year.”


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