Two years of college used to be considered enough to take on the workforce. Later on, the time you had to spend at college went up to four years. Now, there are many fields that require you to have a graduate degree if you expect to be taken seriously, and while the time you are expected to go to college went up, the pressure to do well with a more difficult curriculum did as well.
More time, energy and patience is expected to be spent on our education than ever before, but the price is becoming too steep.We all know someone who has fallen asleep in the library, cried before (or after) an exam, went without sleep for a day (or more) for the sake of studying or had a panic attack because college isn’t going the way they had hoped.
Movies depict college as this magical place where you can get drunk, party and sleep around without ever thinking about your education. Elle Woods is able to seemingly spend a week or more lying in bed, eating chocolate and screaming at unrealistic romance films because her terrible boyfriend dumped her. In reality, we don’t have time to deal with those difficult life events in the way that we need to.
I have a friend who recently passed out twice within the last two weeks. When I asked if she had been sleeping, she said “I don’t have time to sleep.” Upon further investigation, I found out she had only been sleeping three or four hours a night. She claimed she did not have time to sleep more because her coursework was taking up the time she would usually spend sleeping. When I explained that this could kill her, she said she would take care of herself after she finished school. In May.
I was amazed at how she was able to compromise her health for the sake of her education, but after some serious thought, I realized I have done the same thing. I tell myself over and over that I will eat better and exercise when I am done with college. I have been waiting almost four years to treat my body better. When I am exhausted, I tell myself I can sleep as soon as this hectic week is over. Then the next week turns out the same way, and I say the exact same thing. When I am to the point of tears because I am having a hard time completing all of the work that is expected of me, I tell myself I will take some time for myself by resting or watching some Netflix when this assignment is over, but I never take that time.
Over 75 percent of mental health issues begin before the age of 24, as stated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). According to surveys done by NAMI in 2012, among students who stopped going to college before obtaining a degree, approximately 64 percent said it was because of a mental health-related reason. Out of that group of students, 45 percent said they did not receive accommodations that could have helped them stay in school. More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed with or treated for a mental illness within the last year.
With such startling statistics, why haven’t schools taken appropriate measures for the well-being of their students? Many schools harp on how great their counseling center is and how it is a valuable resource. While that can be true, we also need some added preventative resources on college campuses.
What does it say about college that we have to put off taking care of ourselves, mentally and physically, for months at a time? What does it say about our society that we normalize the prioritization of work over health? Many people say if you aren’t exhausted, you aren’t doing it right. We shouldn’t be paying tens of thousands of dollars every year to slowly kill ourselves in the name of academia.
We need more support for our students before they get mentally and physically ill, not after. We need ways to ensure our students feel supported and feel less overworked. Taking time for mental health should be considered more acceptable. You shouldn’t have to compromise your academic career because you need some time off. Students should have better access to mental and physical health services. We should have ways to help more students who are at a higher risk for mental health problems.
We should have easier ways to get appointments at our Student Health Center. We should feel more supported by our administration. Administration can have all the events they want to claim they support students’ mental and physical health, but I would like to see more actions that actively support students. Our university is guilty of doing activities that display a supposed support of students’ mental health, such as the the pinwheels on the lawn. While these displays are well-intentioned, they don’t actively seek out ways to support real students.