Is Fraternity Life Good or Bad for Mental Health?
Fraternities are a common part of college, to the point where many people see joining them as an important part of the higher education experience. Fraternities and sororities can also provide important social support and mental health support to students who are otherwise going out on their own for the first time. Being introduced into a group of likeminded peers with social structure, expectations, and study groups is often the primary reason to join. However, fraternities vary in style, quality, and goals – and some participate in extremely harmful processes like hazing, party culture, and extreme group hierarchy. Therefore, many have a reputation for being bad for students and their mental health.
So, which is it? Are fraternities good or bad for mental health? And should you take part in Greek life during your college study or should you stick to yourself. The answer is a lot more complicated than a simple one way or another, but this article will look at the various factors to consider to help you make a healthy decision.
Many Aspects of Sorority and Fraternity are Unhealthy
Sorority and fraternity life can be unhealthy from day one. For example, studies show that even rushing, or the process of familiarizing yourself with the sorority and fraternity options can cause significant levels of stress and feelings of anxiety. In women, that’s also associated with drops in self-esteem, as women try to compare themselves to the people in sororities to see where they might fit in or where they might be accepted to. The feeling of having to choose a social group in a short amount of time as well as deciding if you are “good enough” for that group can be immensely stressful.
However, many groups also engage in harmful practices, like hazing. Here, hazing is essentially a series of initiation rites for newcomers to a group that basically translate to high levels of bullying for the first few weeks or even the first year of membership. Depending on the sorority or fraternity, hazing can be extremely low but it may also be significant to the point of causing risks of bodily harm. And, while healthy individuals are often able to navigate hazing as a series of well-meaning pranks, people with existing mental health problems – including those experiencing high levels of stress from familial separation and anxiety at living alone – may be more inclined to experience it as traumatic. In 2023, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health diagnosis, meaning the vast majority of students can take lasting harm from hazing practices. Fraternities are meant to help students find a social group but can instead leave individuals feeling isolated, inadequate, and singled out for bullying and violence.
Those unhealthy factors can extend well into the duration of the fraternity, although lifestyle options vary a lot from fraternity to fraternity.
Social Support is Crucial for Mental Health
Fraternity and sorority groups primarily exist to be social support for students during what is a difficult and tumultuous part of their lives. Here, fraternities have been shown to be very good for mental health. Here, a fraternity is a group of likeminded individuals. Unhealthy practices like peer selection and hazing help to ensure that everyone who stays in the group is similar enough in ideology, thought process, and values. This also means that this group is ideally designed to be supportive, to connect to each other, and to help each other.
That works out to fraternities and sororities essentially functioning as social support networks. Many people bond with their peers during initiation, which means you have a significantly higher chance of having friends at all on campus. In addition, sororities and fraternities typically offer safe spaces where members are accepted and supported – regardless of their behavior outside of the fraternity. That can provide a much-needed sense of safety and social support in what can otherwise be a hostile or alienating environment.
In addition, sororities and fraternities share values. You join one because you like what they are offering and initiation means that you only stay if you share those values. This means it’s easier to connect to others, to trust that they share your values, and to feel like part of the group. That’s more so than with a class or with random friends, because you’re forced into talking about values and beliefs as part of initiation in the fraternity. This can mean you get better social support as well as something of a family group.
Fraternities and Sororities are Diverse
Not all fraternities offer the same options or support. In fact, some fraternities can be bad for your mental health and well-being. The state of Missouri conducted a study across fraternities and sorority groups in the state. With 24% of all students in these groups, the study was quite large. Here, fraternity members experienced a 2% increase in anxiety, mostly relating to peer pressure and keeping up. However, persons who aren’t members of a fraternity or sorority are 2% more likely to experience sleep issues, 4% more likely to experience major depression, and just as likely to experience panic attacks. Fraternity and sorority members also see a 4% decrease in suicidal thoughts and a 0.4% decrease in suicide attempts – although there were no real investigations into whether people with better mental health were more likely to join sororities and fraternities to begin with.
Some students also significantly suffer and experience major depression and anxiety from their groups. For example, peer pressure and hazing can be too much. In other cases, student parties and substance abuse can be actively harmful. However, fraternities may also offer group support, sleep schedules, study schedules, emotional support, and stability. It mostly depends on what the fraternity is offering.
Choosing the Right Options
Fraternities can be powerful complements to mental health support because they offer social support, emotional support, and a like-minded group. However, they can also increase stress and social anxiety and may involve bullying and hazing. They might also engage in unhealthy substance abuse and party culture. However, fraternities and sororities normally advertise their goals and priorities and party fraternities often have a reputation for it. This means you can decide what you want from a fraternity and then look for that. For example:
- Focus on study, sports, or other healthy lifestyle
- Mindset that is about group support
- Low or limited initiation and hazing
- Lack of social hierarchy
- A good reputation / no bad reputation
In general, if your sorority has a reputation for hazing, it’s probably going to be bad for your mental health. That’s also true if the fraternity has a reputation for being a party club or for substance abuse. If you’re looking for a healthy way to get through college, you want to look for a healthy group that can support you – rather than helping you to have fun or providing strong initiation rights that could worsen your mental health.
Eventually, sororities and fraternities are as diverse as the people in them. Some of them can be extremely beneficial and others may not be. Therefore, it’s important to do your research and join a fraternity that can add to your college experience.
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