As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, mental health has become an increasingly important topic of conversation. According to the Mayo Clinic, around 30% of college students reported feeling depressed during 2021 and around 50% reported feeling “overwhelmingly anxious.” Measures to improve student mental health have been discussed at universities around the country, and one popular idea is mental health days.
Dr. Betty-Shannon Prevatt, Assistant Professor of Psychology, noted that “neurocognitive science tells us that if you are emotionally taxed, your brain is not in a state to learn.” She explained that during the early part of the pandemic, “resources like social support, family, routine exercise, stability of jobs and school were no longer accessible,” meaning that people needed to find new ways of coping. She said she believes this is one reason for mental health days’ rise in popularity.
Some professors at Meredith have implemented mental health days or similar opportunities for students in their courses. Dr. Prevatt said she has “always allowed two unexcused absences that do not detract from a student's grade…and allow students to care for themselves when the need arises.” She noted that the psychology department also has bulletin boards on the first floor of Ledford Hall including topics like “addressing resilience, growth mindsets and coping,” and that psychology faculty also include mental health resources in their syllabi.
Lisa Pearce, Associate Professor of Art, said she has “tried to space [mental health days] out to fit two in [each] course,” one before the midterm and one after.
“My first thought was to allow these days to be taken as needed throughout the semester,” Professor Pearce said, “but my concern was how to adjust and get everyone up to speed if they are missing at various days throughout the semester. I am seeing this semester as a pilot for what works, and I'll reevaluate at the end of the semester based on student feedback.”
Dr. Tim Hendrix, Associate Professor of Mathematics, does not have mental health days built into his syllabus but says he has “always encouraged students to find a healthy balance” between studying and finding time for rest.
“I am not sure that planning for them in my syllabus is the most effective way, but other faculty may find that to be effective and important,” Dr. Hendrix said. “At least, at this point, I would like to gauge what's going on in my class, and adjust to the students' needs in that moment. If I allow the content schedule to accommodate a mental health day on a certain date, that may not be the date where such a day is needed.
Dr. Hendrix encouraged students to utilize the many campus resources Meredith College has to offer. “Meredith College is a small private liberal arts college with community as one of its hallmarks. Part of that community is that we care for and educate the whole person,” he said.
Some Meredith students have called for universal mental health days to be instituted by the College. According to the college’s 2021-2022 Academic Calendar, no college-wide mental health days have been scheduled.
“From the faculty perspective…I imagine mental health days are a difficult tool for an institution to administer if students want to retain a week-long spring break,” Dr. Prevatt said. “If we were to formally add mental health days, I imagine this would mean extending the semester.”
With this in mind, Dr. Prevatt stated that “mental health days are only one strategy to care for emotional wellness.” To discuss mental health and emotional wellness, students can contact the Counseling Center by phone at (919) 760-8427 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I cannot speak for the entire department,” Dr. Hendrix concluded, “but I can say that all of my colleagues in the department have taken seriously the need for mental health awareness…Since COVID-19, I think that everyone—faculty, staff, students, literally everyone—have experienced so much stress that we are all more fragile emotionally and mentally, not just physically. People have dealt with so many traumatic things in our lives that it is no wonder we are all a bit more fragile, and thus, susceptible to mental health issues.”
By Shae-Lynn Henderson, Staff Writer