Mental Health: Are we doing enough?

Kathryn Williams, Editor-In-Chief

There is just something about this semester that seems to have hit students harder than last year. I don’t know if it’s the transition from Zoom to in-person classes or Mercury being in retrograde, but it seems like everywhere I turn students are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I feel like I’m just trying to survive each day and looking forward to my next cup of coffee.

The idea that students don’t have grounds to complain about their work since they pay to be here at this academically rigorous institution is preposterous to me. According to the Active Minds website, 39% of college students experience a significant mental health issue, and 67% of people 18-24 years old with anxiety or depression do not seek treatment. I don’t want to hear that my generation is too soft or that we just need to pull ourselves together and deal with it. What we need is support. We work hard to meet incredibly high standards all the time, we deserve a break from time to time.

A year ago on October 21, 2020, students received an alert that classes were canceled for the day on account of inclement weather. It was a perfectly clear day, no snow to be found, but it was a much-needed mental health day. I remember hearing screams of excitement from down the hall and opening my door to see everyone out of their rooms celebrating the break. That joy was short-lived, however, as the next day professors announced an increase in work or moving up deadlines to make up for the lost time. 

I’ve found myself at multiple points this semester longing to receive a “class is canceled” text from the school. I think that mental health days could have a really positive impact on how students handle their stress if implemented correctly. If the College found a way to incorporate mental health days into the school year, it would not only provide students with a much-needed break but also normalize being open about and taking care of students’ mental health.

From a logistics standpoint, I completely understand the scheduling problems that surprise mental health days cause. Perhaps the College could remedy this by planning mental health days well in advance so that professors can plan around them when forming their syllabi. I’m not going to try to speak with details on how to work this out from an administrative point of view because I have no experience with that, but I trust that there is a way.

Another option to consider would be having course syllabi include excused mental health days. For example, a student can have 2 excused mental health days per semester to be used at their discretion. Unless the College passed a policy to regulate this it would be completely up to the professor on how to implement these days. As students get excused absences allowed for taking care of their physical well-being, why do they not get a chance to take care of their mental well-being? If a student is having a panic attack or anxiety, they likely are not going to be able to perform well in class or retain the information. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for them to take the time to focus on their mental health, maybe get in touch with a counselor, and then return to the material when they can focus?

Saint Anselm College has a number of mental health resources, including counselors and references for off-campus assistance. There are also multiple initiatives to help students, such as a chapter of Active Minds for student-athletes and the Mental Health Committee through SGA. These are good steps that indicate an active concern for the mental well-being of students, but there needs to be a real culture shift to make a positive impact on how students handle the stress of college life.