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Can Emotional Intelligence Programs Combat Depression Among College Students?

Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students?[1] This is often a surprising statistic for many people but according Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist and research affiliate of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and her colleague Robin Stern, the truth is that “many college students are struggling, even suffering.” But why?

As I have watched my younger brother enter freshman year just this past August I am often puzzled by his actions. Every time he asks me if I will come and get him so that he can come home for  the weekend I think “What? Why do you want to come home!? You should be having the time of your life!”

As a 2014 college graduate myself, the amazing memories that college has provided me are still vibrant in my mind, as I am sure the memories are still equally vibrant for those having graduated thirty or forty years ago. I have made lifelong friendships, I have challenged and expanded upon my initial beliefs, and I have had experiences that are irreplaceable (experiences like diversity retreats, being a mentor in the college of business, etc.) While watching my brother’s initial reaction to college-life perplexed me, it also forced me to recollect what those first few months of college were like.

I remember feeling excited, nervous, anxious, scared, and a little lonely. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world where no one knew who I was or what I had accomplished. No one knew that I was caring, that I was smart, that I was athletic or that I was a great friend. No one knew these things that I had identified by almost my entire life and now I had to prove them all over again, but this time, I had to prove them to professors who would never remember my name in a sea of hundreds, to other students who fell on multiple spectrums of academic integrity, and to other people who were doing anything and everything to make as many friends as possible and be well-known. How could I have forgotten how much those first few months sucked! (Don’t worry freshmen, this is just the initial perception because over the course of these four years it has been my experience that you will make amazing friends and meet professors who become lifelong mentors.)

According to Divecha and Stern “College life for most freshmen is emotionally challenging. The security and comfort of old relationships are interrupted, bringing feelings of grief, or loss, or of being at sea—in spite of being surrounded by hundreds (often thousands) of new peers. In the context of those ruptures, the desire to connect can lead kids to make unsatisfying or poor choices, perhaps even socializing with people they don’t really like. Some freshmen bring with them unresolved interpersonal difficulties from high school or family life, which complicates their adjustment. On a deeper level, at college there are new and often unexpected challenges to their identity and sense of efficacy: Perhaps the freshman was a high performer with career plans in high school and is shocked by the lower grades in college; or maybe it is her first time out of her community and she can’t find people like herself. Many students have financial pressures, leading them to take too many classes at once, or to take on an extra job, or even to skimp on meal plans, leaving them hungry. Rising inequality in an increasingly competitive economy has raised all the stakes.”

It is fundamental that colleges have the proper resources to assist students with the challenges associated with integrating into college yet data show that availability to counseling services is constrained. “Counseling centers serve only about 10 percent of students on campus, and there is an inverse relationship between the size of the college and the ratio of mental health workers to students (in other words, larger campuses have proportionally fewer resources available). According to students, it’s not unusual to experience long wait times (even two to three months) and inconsistent, insufficient meetings.” Also, according to this study, 10% of centers charged a fee for personal counseling which has doubled since 2012 and over 35% of directors did not report psychiatric services available at their campus.

As Devicha and Stern say, “We can do better… There is a large and growing body of research that suggests that the skills of emotional intelligence—the ability to reason with and about emotions to achieve goals—are correlated with positive outcomes across the entire age spectrum, from preschool through adulthood. Emotions affect learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships, and health, and people with more developed emotion skills do better. Among college students, skills of emotional intelligence are linked to engaging in fewer risky behaviors whereas self-esteem is not. Our research at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with children in classrooms shows us that these abilities can be taught. In classrooms where children learn to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate their emotions, they are rated as having a greater range of skills: they have better relationships and social skills and are more connected to each other and their teachers; they are better at managing conflict; they are more autonomous and show more leadership skills; and they perform better in academic subjects (it’s easier to concentrate when they feel better).”

At TRACOM we recognize the need for Emotional Intelligence and Resiliency training in academic institutions. While the need is there, the funding for these programs is sometimes lacking. We offer academic institutions a discount of 60% off our programs and products through our TRACOM Cares charitable initiative. To learn more about TRACOM Cares click here.”


[1] Strauss, Valerie. “Why College Freshmen Need to Take Emotions 101.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 28 Sept. 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/28/why-college-freshmen-need-to-take-emotions-101/>.

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