Women students at Michigan State University are nearly two times as likely to experience anxiety than men, according to the 2016 State of Spartan Health survey.
The survey, administered by Dennis Martell, health education services coordinator at Olin Health Center, is conducted every two years as a part of the National College Health Assessment. It covers sexual and mental health; alcohol, tobacco and drug use; weight, nutrition and exercise; and personal safety and violence.
Of the thousand students surveyed at Michigan State University, almost 26 percent of women reported having anxiety, compared to 16 percent of men. Nationally, 22 percent of women and 19 percent of men reported having anxiety in 2015.
“The level of anxiety among all students has gone up,” said Martell. “But the gap between men and women is growing a lot quicker.”
While the definition is not explicitly stated in the State of Spartan Health survey, Martell said anxiety is a physical manifestation of stress that interrupts one’s daily living habits. For college students, he said anxiety is often triggered by career outlook, finances and academic rigor. Women students in particular are more likely to experience anxiety due to personal relationships and safety concerns, he said.
“Sometimes I get feelings of self-doubt about my personal relationships – primarily that someone doesn’t really like me or want to be my friend,” said Alyse Maksimoski, a student studying zoology at Michigan State University.
Maksimoski, 21, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when she was 15 years old, after several bouts of increased heart rate, shallow breathing and shaking – panic responses she continues to experience when her anxiety levels are high.
She said feeling overwhelmed with homework and falling behind on note-taking are two of her biggest stressors – ones that ultimately trigger her anxiety.
According to the State of Spartan Health, nearly 32 percent of women and 22 percent of men reported having stress throughout the past academic year. Stress is the No. 1 reported health problem among both genders.
A student majoring in dietetics at Michigan State University who wishes to remain anonymous also believes that stress plays a large role in her anxiety.
“My degree program places a lot of pressure on us to have a high GPA, do volunteer work, get ready for internships and also work,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night a lot of the time because I keep thinking I could be studying, I could be doing something else.”
However, she said that being a survivor of sexual trauma is what largely caused her anxiety to grow to the level at which she experiences it now.
“I noticed I skipped a lot of classes because I didn’t feel safe during the lectures,” she said. “I used to be a bartender, but now I can’t go back into that title due to this, and I also steer clear of any jobs that deal with customer service.”
According to the Spartan Health Survey, the amount of women and men who reported experiencing sexual assault only differed by half a percentage point, with women on the higher end at slightly over 1 percent. Martell added that many sexual assaults go unreported, and women continue to experience sexual victimization at much higher rates than men.
Overall, Martell believes that women concern themselves with more things in the world – including both their perception in society and their safety – causing higher levels of anxiety than experienced among men. He said that people tend to feel more anxious when they have less social privileges.
“Marginalized people often have much higher instances of mental illness than those in positions of privilege and power,” Maksimoski said. “[As a queer woman,] it’s immensely stressful to be constantly degraded, pushed down, and belittled because of your gender and sexuality.”
In addition to anxiety and stress, women reported high rates of sleep difficulties, depression and cold, flu and sore throat. According to Martell, anxiety and depression are likely to lower one’s immune system, potentially causing a higher number of reported illnesses.
Though experienced at lower rates, anxiety, stress and sleep difficulties were also among the top five concerns reported by men, along with work and internet use and computer games.
“There may be some masculinity bias,” he said. “Men do not always recognize anxiety or stress and they feel that they are capable of handling it on their own.”
To better assist both women and men with anxiety and other mental health concerns, Maksimoski said Michigan State University should hire more mental health professionals and provide diagnostics and prescriptions to students. She has seen notable improvement within herself through medication and coping mechanism learned through counseling services.
Martell also suggests qualitative focus groups to get a better understanding of what’s causing students’ anxiety.
“I’d especially like to survey campus climate now that it’s after the election,” Martell said. “Government doesn’t have a great track record with resources for women, so anxiety may be even more on the rise.”