Opinion: The Student Mental Health Crisis
Mental health and mental illness are important and have only become more prevalent issues with time. I have been extremely fortunate to explore and question perceptions about the mental health crisis in our Meredith community through Herald articles, but there is far more to be said and done.
In previous articles I have looked at the mental health crisis from the perspective of Meredith students dealing with the many stresses of being college students. I have also looked into how professors address mental health days on campus.
The greatest common denominator I found was that we as a community are not adequately equipped to handle the distress that often comes with mental health issues. This is by no means an attempt to shine a negative reflection on the Meredith community, but it does raise a lot of important questions and concerns about how students, faculty and staff can become properly prepared to deal with a mental health crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for growing concern about mental health and the impact it has on daily functioning. In some ways, it can be easier working from home, and a person can reach almost anyone at any time by utilizing communication resources like Zoom. But while this is efficient and a reliable way to keep connected, it can be overwhelming and difficult to maintain.
I believe that with the current trajectory, we as a community are becoming more reliant on these resources and this lifestyle. Yet, there still seems to be no change in the way we address growing concerns about mental health. Although the pandemic may be slowing down, the biggest contributors to stress are not, so why are we seeing decreased efforts to advocate for mental health?
While there is still much to be desired about the current policies, mental health days should not be the only college response to the dilemma at hand. I would much rather have a full day off of all classes for mental health than have professors choose specific days in their syllabus or have to choose my own days to skip class.
These methods are stressful and can further worsen mental health because one is either left to go to the rest of their classes after missing one or required to catch up on whatever they missed. Either way, this proves the system to be redundant. Picking and choosing random mental health days does not solve the problem, it merely prolongs and encourages it.
Instead, we should be advocating for a voice and representation in this crisis. I am disheartened by the negative stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness. I do not want to feel alone in what I go through, but I so often do because there are not enough spaces for me to voice my concerns and feelings.
We are primed as students to feel like stress and being overloaded is “part of the college experience,” but it shouldn’t have to be. We overwhelm ourselves with the amount of work we take on and become so burnt out that we oftentimes have to stop trying. Surely there does not have to be this vicious cycle of overload, crash, repeat. Perhaps as a college community, not just at Meredith, there needs to be greater emphasis on creating a more hospitable environment for these mental health discussions.
Staff and students alike should have basic training on facilitating more open communication about schedules, timelines and general ability to manage stress. When I asked several Meredith faculty about mental health days, the fact that I received either minimal, inconsistent or inconclusive responses is indicative of lacking policy. Then again, who can judge a specific policy if there is no outlined systemic guideline on the same issue?
The mental health crisis roots itself far deeper than any specific college policy, and while it may be complicated to navigate, I do think there needs to be more awareness about the importance of having a functioning, unilateral policy about mental health on campus. Mental health affects students and faculty alike, and as such, we all need to play our part in being better equipped to address these concerns.
By Shae-Lynn Henderson, Staff Writer