The first year of college is difficult for most students. Laura Rodgers, professor of nursing, presented a lecture dealing with this topic called “Stress, Cortisol, and Adjustment Disorder Among College Students” on Oct. 3.
According to Rodgers, adjustment disorder is when a student is “overwhelmed by stress, [impairing] social and/or academic performance, or distress seems out of proportion.”
Adjustment disorder cannot be in combination with any other mental disorder such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression. Adjustment disorder also cannot be properly diagnosed in a student if that student has recently suffered a loss.
About six to eight percent of first year college students have been diagnosed with adjustment disorder. The first year of college is a stressful time. New students deal with higher academic workloads, new peers and surroundings, as well as learning how to take care of themselves. Rodgers believes that the first year of college is the “most difficult event ever experienced.”
The first two to six weeks is what Rodgers describes as the “transitional period,” where a first year student either gets with the program or drops out.
Rodgers’ research includes a study of first year college students. More than 400 students were asked to self-evaluate in a survey to determine how well they adjusted. The results showed that 26 percent experienced academic problems, 47 percent experienced emotional problems, 11 percent experienced behavioral problems and 17 percent experienced social problems. Women tended to report more problems than men, except in the behavioral category, where men tended to have more aggressive outbursts.
Rodgers also has conducted studies comparing the cortisol levels of Russian college students to that of American college students.
The average person’s cortisol levels start low in the morning, gradually increase during the day, and then decrease at night. In individuals with adjustment disorder, cortisol levels tend to be consistently higher.
In her study, Rodgers’ found that Russian students, although they had generally experienced traumatic events at a higher rate than Americans, had steady cortisol levels and were generally less stressed.
In addition, Russian students don’t abuse alcohol as much as Americans. Rodgers’ believes that this is because Russians mature at an earlier age.
Rodgers’ lecture helped inform faculty and staff at Linfield about adjustment disorder in order to allow them to better help any first year student that may be experiencing it.
Paige Jurgensen can be reached at