posted on: Thursday October 31, 2019
by Joshua Chlebowski ’21
Since October is Mental Health Awareness Month, students, faculty, and staff have all been able to participate in a range of activities, such as the semi-colon project, fresh check day, and wilderness retreats, to understand and break the stigma around mental health. As beneficial as these events are, Providence College must work to further develop means of nurturing mental health throughout the academic year.
The opportunity to introduce the value of mental health should start with the excused absence section of the syllabus, distributed on the first days of each new semester. Professors will often permit students to have one or two unexcused absences from classes, usually attributing them to oversleeping or some other situation. Illnesses that impact physical health, such as the flu, are often excused in the syllabus.
With that being said, these skip days and excused absences do not take into account another very pressing health concern on college campuses, particularly here at PC.
A person’s physical health certainly fluctuates and is susceptible to germs and cold strains, but mental health is equally as important and just as vulnerable. Legitimizing not going to class to take a day to destress and work on one’s mental state will go a long way in destigmatizing and opening up conversations surrounding common factors of college campuses that negatively impact students’ mental well-being.
Though some professors may inform students that mental health days will count as excused absences, universalizing this policy across all departments at PC ensures that all students have equal access and provisions when it comes to caring for their mental health.
Mental health, if not properly cared for, can negatively impact the physical body. Poor eating habits, sleep deprivation, and even withdrawal from friends and social settings on campus can all result from mental and emotional struggles brought on by academic stress.
One might be tempted to claim that students are already able to take a day off for mental health reasons if they want; all that student needs to do is use one of their “skips.” This option, however, does not benefit students because in attempting to handle an overwhelming amount of stress or other mental taxation, they are now facing the skepticism of a professor who thinks that the student just wanted a day off.
Taking a day off for mental health reasons differs from simply waking up and deciding that one does not want to go to their classes. Equating the two only fuels the stigma surrounding the mental health of college students.
If a student faces a workload that overwhelms them to a point where they are unable to make any fruitful progress, knowing they can take one day to practice mindfulness without scorn from a professor can allow that student to produce higher-quality work for their courses. Sometimes it is this simple pause that brings about beneficial long-term productivity.
When students are overwhelmed and unable to pursue the activities that bring them joy due to fear of that next assignment or exam, they learn to place shallow productivity over developing methods to become self-aware and act productively in order to help themselves.
Including these excused absences on syllabi may bring some to claim that they are taking a mental health day when they are, in fact, not. However, do all students claim that they cannot go to class because they are ill or have some physical malady?
Some may take advantage of this system, but the vast majority will recognize the importance and welcome the knowledge that if academics become intensive to the point where work in other courses is suffering, they can take a day off and come back refreshed and prepared to produce the high-caliber work expected of them.
Mental health is a topic that many have heard of, but few fully understand the depth of the subject and its far-reaching effects. Emphasizing the importance of self-care for students, especially as it pertains to remedying the stress from multiple courses, is an excellent way to prepare them for life after graduation.
Listening to your body and knowing how it works in conjunction with your mind allows for self-awareness that many individuals lack. While including a provision for mental health days in college syllabi will not bring about widespread self-revelations, it takes a step in that direction and allows students who do wrestle with it to know they are understood by their professors and are not penalized for situations that are out of their control.