It’s been a rough start to the semester, and student mental health is taking a massive hit. After a year of chaotic, messy, schooling, it’s been hard for students to return to the usual grind of a normal semester. Especially because this semester still isn’t normal. With masks, without surveillance COVID testing, outbreaks, and trying to adjust to a pandemic existence, students, faculty, and staff are more stressed than ever. It’s time for a change in how we as a society respect mental health.
As a society, especially in colleges and schools, we need to pay more attention to mental health. Mental health is as important as physical health. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is the second highest cause of death for people aged 10-34.
During the pandemic, when people were forced to pay closer attention to their physical health, many people took that opportunity to advocate for mental health. Schools and workplaces had massive conversations around mental health and avoiding burnout. According to the New York Times, students in schools around the country are advocating for Mental Health Days. For some, Mental Health Days just mean counting behavioural or mental health reasons as excusable absences. In Sewanee’s case I believe a different approach is needed. This approach is professors building Mental Health Days into their syllabus.
Building Mental Health Days into the syllabus means having a few days in the semester where there is either no class, or a work day where nothing new is taught so students can catch up.
In the current system, professors give students a certain amount of absences to cover non life-threatening illnesses, alarm clock malfunctions, trips, etc. However, most professors only grant about 3 or 4 absences a semester. Using those absences for mental health reasons isn’t helpful for many reasons. For one, there are only a few free absences a semester and students shouldn’t have to choose between helping their friends through something and taking care of their own mental health.
In addition, forcing students to miss class to take care of their mental health often makes things worse. School stress is often a huge reason why student mental health deteriorates, so having them miss class to take care of it just causes more mental health deterioration.
During the pandemic, we’ve brought a huge focus to physical health and not having people show up to work when sick. While we have made strides to focus on mental health in terms of avoiding burnout, society still doesn’t view mental illness as something to care for in the same way as physical illness.
As a freshman coming into Sewanee from a year of Zoom school, jumping into a culture of “work hard, play hard” as the students call it, was a huge shock. Trying to be social and make friends, while being pushed harder and faster in my school work than I’ve ever been, is really hard.
It’s an endless cycle of losing motivation, not doing your work, feeling stress and anxiety over not doing your work, which makes you lose your motivation even more, and it goes on and on.
Mental health is not something that can just be ignored. It is something that needs to be taken seriously and respected. Students claiming that their mental health isn’t good should be an alarm for the university. Sewanee should take that as a bad sign, and do something about it. Currently, most Sewanee students know about mental health resources through vague mentions by administrators of services at CAPS or the Wick, or a new optional class for freshmen called Verge. While these are great resources and should be advertised, another way to care for student mental health is to ask students what kind of support they need.
Students are the only ones who know what kind of stresses and anxiety they are going through. However, each student is different, and has different needs in order to care for their health. Having mental health days gives students in the classroom an equal opportunity to choose how to take care of their mental health.