CONTENT WARNING: This staff editorial contains mentions of suicide and mental health.
Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by The Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
To review our editorial policy, which includes our blotter policy, click here.
While college is often filled with numerous surprises, approximately one year ago, university faculty, staff and students were confronted with unprecedented challenges put forth by the increasingly emerging COVID-19 outbreak, forcing university life to transition to an unfamiliar, virtual format.
This transition would enable Slippery Rock University, like many other institutions, to protect its faculty, staff and students from the threat of physical illness and we commend SRU faculty and staff for their efforts in making that quick, difficult transition. Though, while mitigating the risks of physical illness, overall mental health would be severely challenged through numerous obstacles in navigating the new normal.
Looking back on the last 365 days, the student mental health crisis has grown for college students who feel isolated and uncertain about their future.
The mental health of students has been routinely challenged as students must now also be their own educators to some extent, while family members have increased expectations of household contributions from students residing at home. Ultimately, this unstable balancing act between home life and school life with little to no outlet through means such as socialization or environmental change to break up these dueling obligations wear down students, making them prone to situations such as burnout.
In trying to address declining mental health, though, it becomes significantly more challenging when your only form of outlet is through a computer screen. While SRU has made significant efforts in trying to connect with students, we truly need more support from the university and from each other.
Because we are expected to prioritize our academics and continue to give as much effort as a more traditional semester, we have seen the mental health of students has progressively gotten worse over the past year.
We especially need to consider our mental health this semester for a few reasons. Last week was the time when we would traditionally have a spring break. However, SRU had no break integrated into the schedule, instead giving the option to professors to cancel classes or “go easy” on students for a Kick Back Week. The thought and planning behind the week was appreciated by students, but a scheduled break still felt needed. We acknowledge that the school is aware of students’ mental health and had the best intentions of helping us. Ultimately, though, for students and professors alike, it felt like business-as-usual as many professors remained unaware of the week and students needed to prioritize class attendance and homework.
We are now in the final six weeks of the semester, but the only hope in sight is that there will be a more open fall semester. However, this doesn’t solve our current mental health crisis, and our mental health and perceptions of college life now will absolutely dictate the mental health of SRU students in the long-term.
Based on that, we must also acknowledge the collective toll this pandemic has had on an already concerning mental health crisis. While SRU has unfortunately seen this in the past few years, we most recently saw this at Gannon University where students are mourning the loss of a student to suicide. It is through this tragic loss that we must recognize the further steps that must be taken at the university and student-body level in order to ensure the complete safety of students’ well-being.
As a university, we must consider the ways in which wellness can be integrated within the framework. This could include the integration of wellness days to offer a momentary pause of peace or by providing designated, credit-rewarding courses dedicated to helping students improve their mental health. While there are resources for students to seek help and incredible staff members at SRU who care, it is through these means that could really help to remedy a deeply inflicted hurt felt by many students by integrating wellness into overwhelming schedules.
Additionally, faculty need to take an honest look at how their students are coping with what they feel is an increased workload in a virtual environment and adjust accordingly instead of pushing through to the end. To that end, the university could benefit in adopting a grading scale with a no credit option to relieve some stress felt by struggling students.
Yes, we have a more traditional fall semester to look forward to, and some SRU students and faculty members already have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. However, this outlook of hope isn’t enough to get us through this difficult and relentless semester.
If there is anything to be taken away from this pandemic, it’s that we need to be kinder to ourselves and be more gentle with our mental health. While students manage to do their best, it doesn’t make it any less hard, stressful or draining.
In moments like these where burnout is prevalent and ultimately hard to avoid after a year of pandemic life and virtual learning, we must prioritize mental health and take action steps now. School is not the first priority anymore. It’s never been. We as a community must come together to realize that what must be our first priority is ensuring that students are well-rested and supported.
We can continue to “push through” these trying times, research and discuss ways to improve student life in the following semesters. But, to do so knowing that the price of that action is having student mental health crumble to a point where they are unmotivated to complete the semester or return, or worse, take the drastic action of self-harm is impermissible.
As for university administration, taking a bigger role leading the community through this crisis is a must. Students and faculty alike need to know exactly who is leading the charge to correct the problem instead of the ever expanding number of groups, committees and figureheads. Bringing up another conversation now around mental health is justified, but it really is always justified. However, this should not be an invitation to establish another committee to look into the problem and kick the problem down the road.
We must not wait to see what lengths it will take to finally have mental health recognized as the serious issue that it is because, by that point, we will all be too late. To this end, we urge university administration and faculty to consider what is occurring outside of Zoom classrooms and to support the student body and its supporting organizations, such as SRSGA, in instilling positive reform for a more promising tomorrow.