Numerous studies have documented the ability of massage therapy to reduce stress and effect relaxation. A new survey shows today’s college students could be more in need of massage than ever.

An annual survey finds U.S. college students rate their emotional health at a record low. Only 51.9 percent of students reported that their emotional health was in the “highest 10 percent” or “above average,” a drop of 3.4 percentage points from 2009 and a significant decline from the 63.6 percent who placed themselves in those categories when self-ratings of emotional health were first measured in 1985, according to a press release.

Also among the results:

• Female students were far less likely to report high levels of emotional health than male students (45.9 percent versus 59.1 percent), a 13.2 percentage-point difference. Women were also more than twice as likely as men to feel frequently “overwhelmed by all I had to do” as high-school seniors.

• While students’ perceived emotional health took a downturn, their drive to achieve and their academic abilities are trending upward. More students than ever before (71.2 percent) rated their academic abilities as “above average” or in the “highest 10 percent,” and 75.8 percent rated their drive to achieve in the same terms.

Often considered positive traits, high levels of drive to achieve and academic ability could also contribute to students’ feelings of stress, said John H. Pryor, lead author of the report and director of CIRP.

“Stress is a major concern when dealing with college students,” he said. “If students are arriving in college already overwhelmed and with lower reserves of emotional health, faculty, deans and administrators should expect to see more consequences of stress, such as higher levels of poor judgment around time management, alcohol consumption and academic motivation.”

• The challenging economic landscape continues to influence students’ college experiences. The proportion of students using loans to help pay for college remains high, at 53.1 percent, and more students reported receiving grants and scholarships than at any point since 2001—73.4 percent, a 3.4 percentage-point increase over 2009.

The survey documented the continuing effect of the economy, with unemployment on the rise for students’ parents. The percentage of students reporting that their fathers were unemployed (4.9 percent) was at an all-time high, and the percentage reporting unemployed mothers (8.6 percent) also continued to increase. Students are weighing their preferences along with considerations regarding the net costs of attending particular colleges.

Source: CIRP Freshman Survey, UCLA’s annual survey of the nation’s entering students at four-year colleges and universities, is part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, and is administered nationally by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. The 2010 Freshman Norms report is based on the responses of 201,818 first-time, full-time students at 279 of the nation’s baccalaureate colleges and universities.

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