Grades, Mental Health, and How Writing Can Improve Both
Everyone goes through a period in their lives where they are faced with tremendous uncertainty about what they want their futures to look like. For college students, this can be particularly difficult given the number of opportunities in front of them. Many students don’t completely make up their minds about what they want to do and/or struggle to understand why they went down the path they did. This uncertainty, when combined with financial and academic pressures, seem to be a huge reason why so many college students suffer from mental health issues. Given the fact that suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death in people aged 18-24, it really is worth talking about. According to the College National Health Assessment in Fall 2016, 39.1% of undergraduate college students “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” in the last 12 months. Additionally, 61.9% of students “felt overwhelming anxiety,” 11.2% “seriously considered suicide,” and 2.1% attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.
Anyone who wishes for the well-being of a college students should pay attention to these issues. For some, it is a life or death situation. For others, it is the difference between finding meaning in the world, and being lost. Whether someone is suffering from apathy or severe mental health disorders, there are options available to help alleviate some of the problems, many of which are unknown to most students. One of these options is writing about personal topics such as emotional experiences or plans for the future. These sorts of exercises have been shown to improve mental health as well as academic success.
Specifically, UT Professor of Psychology, James Pennebaker, has decades of research showing the benefits of writing about personal and emotional topics. Experiments conducted by Dr. Pennebaker and many others show that writing for 15-30 minutes about non-superficial, emotional topics does more than just improve your writing capabilities. They can serve as a therapeutic process, alleviate suffering, improve grades for students, and even improve immunological health. While this sort of task might not produce these results if done once or twice, if repeated long period of time (such as weeks or months), the positive effects are more pronounced.
If you are uncertain or anxious about your future, or are unmotivated and procrastinate on important tasks, the future-authoring program can help lay out and plan your thoughts about what you think your future should look like. When given to college students in The Netherlands, the program helped improve overall grades, reduce the dropout rate, as well as close the ethnic-minority and gender achievement gaps. The program asks individuals to set out and describe an ideal future that they could see themselves living in. Then, it asks what the worst future possible would look like if they let things fall apart and stopped doing the things that they considered important. The program ends by letting individuals layout a series of goals, along with why and how they realistically want to attain them. While the program costs $15, it seems worthwhile if you spend the time necessary to complete it and put down and describe a realistic plan for your future. This reduces the uncertainty and mental stress of not knowing what to do or where to go with your life. The fact that the program costs money can also serve as a motivation to finish the program once your purchase it. However, even if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay for this, laying out and planning your future informally, can certainly provide some of the benefits.
The first step in dealing with a problem is talking about it, and mental health issues are no exception. Some college students find assistance through traditional means, such as therapy, counseling, or psychiatry. These are valuable and effective methods. However, there ways to alleviate some mental health problems that are less known. One of these is the power of personal writing to help you understand yourself. If you take the time to write about topics you find emotional, or make a detailed plan of your future, chances are you will see unexpected benefits!