What can students and
professors do to help students
in crisis successfully balance
work and life stressors?
By Lorna Collier
that you’re going to live this charmed existence — is just not
For example, one study of 1,575 graduate students at the
University of Tennessee found that about 25 percent had
experienced the loss of a significant person in their lives
within the previous 24 months. The research (part of an
unpublished dissertation) showed students experienced grief
symptoms lasting at least six months.
Other students fall seriously ill or are injured, must deal
with family issues such as divorce, or must care for sick or
injured family members.
George,* for instance, is a second-year PsyD student at
Loyola University Maryland. Last year, his younger brother
went through a severe bout of addictive and self-destructive
behaviors. George, then 25, was the only person in his family
who knew what was happening, and the person his brother
turned to for help.
“It was almost a life-and-death addiction,” says George.
“A lot of responsibility fell on me to get him into rehab.”
The situation was made all the more difficult by George’s
family living a nine-hour drive or two-hour plane ride from
Throughout the crisis, George didn’t take any leave or
reduce his class load. “I tried to juggle all of it,” he says. “I
didn’t take off from school — that’s not my personality. I try
to do a lot at once.”
Flare-ups of chronic illnesses can be another disruptive
factor in students’ lives.
Ben Greenberg, 35, a PsyD student at Argosy University
in San Francisco and former concert musician, has been
dealing for many years with severe tinnitus and sensitivity to
sound, which he says can be made worse by stress as well as
When Greenberg started at Argosy, he worked with the
student affairs office, which on his behalf informed his
professors in writing about his condition (which he calls an
“invisible disability” because his limitations aren’t readily
apparent). His professors have been understanding and have
made accommodations, he says, such as making allowances
if he needs to leave class due to noise level and granting extra
time if needed for assignments.
However, at a previous school, Greenberg says, his
instructor for a course in creative expression was less
accommodating. The course included exercises where
* A pseudonym