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W.C. Poon1, S.F. Yap1, T.P. Ong2

1Monash University (MALAYSIA)
2Neilson (MALAYSIA)
Stress is a part of a college student’s existence and has a profound impact on the student’s ability to cope with college life (Dusselier, Dunn, Wang, Shelley and Whalen, 2005; Greenberg, 1993). Stress negatively affects an individual’s health and academic performance (Campbell & Svenson, 1992; Misra, McKean, West & Russo, 2000). Stress may be caused by environmental demands which are perceived as a threat if the individual is uncertain with his or her psychological, emotional, behavioural and physical abilities to deal with it. Academic stress is one of the factors which affect mental health, for example depression and anxiety, which may lead to suicide. On average seven Malaysians commit suicide each day and 13.7 percent are students who have mental health problems (New Strait Times, 2007). This suggests that there is high rate of academic stress among undergraduate students.

The implication is great for mental and physical health disorder, and stress is seen as a threat to the well being if one is uncertain with psychological, emotional, behavioural and physical abilities to deal with the events. Studies on stress are diverse, ranging from stress in relation to health (Roth, Wiebe, Fillingim & Shay, 1989; Ryan & Twibell, 2000; Khor, Cobiac & Skrzypiec, 2002; Gardner & Oswald, 2004), stress and coping behaviours (Kim, Won, Liu, Liu & Kitanishi, 1997; Naquin & Gilbert, 1996), to outcome of stress management and stress reduction programmes (Hirokawa, Yagi & Miyata, 2002; Lumley & Provenzano, 2003; Sharkin, Plageman & Mangold, 2003). There is, however, a limited study on all three, namely the causes, effects and outcomes of academic stress among undergraduates. This study aims to assess the exposure to different stressors and the outcomes of stress among undergraduates at different levels of education. This study provides some key insights to assist university administrators in identifying potential academic stress behaviours and the sources of stress which are prevalent. The study also outlines appropriate immediate intervention to prevent any further negative consequences. From the macroeconomics perspective, the problem of academic stress needs to be addressed as it negatively influences the nation’s return on the human capital investment and thus affects long run economic growth. An increase in educational attainment would certainly raise the production possibilities frontier in the economy.

This study has also focused on gender differences in terms of the impact of academic stressors and outcomes of health. Academic stress is associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including depression and physical illness. The current study examined the capacity of supportive communication reported as being received from friends and family to buffer the association between academic stress and health. College students completed measures of academic stress, of supportive communication received (emotional and informational), and of health status (depression and symptoms of physical illness).