Opinion: Start Tackling the Source, Not Just The Symptoms of Student Mental Health Issues

By Kayla Stowell, Contributing Writer

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 80 percent of college students report feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities as a student, and 50 percent of students rated their mental health as below average or poor. It is no question that anxiety and depression have been on the rise in recent years, so these statistics are hardly surprising, especially given the fact that we are all living through unprecedented times. Gettysburg College has implemented many programs and resources to address student stress and mental health, but if you ask me, it is not enough.

If self care and short term de-stressing are what you’re looking for, then there are a host of options on campus: S.P.A.R.K. mental health club, the Breathe Gettysburg initiative, yoga classes, and PEEPS just to name a few. The Counseling Center is also an easily accessible resource for students who need more intensive, individualized help managing their mental health. While all of these resources are necessary and a great step in the right direction, they are all designed to tackle the symptoms of student stress without actually acknowledging the source of it. If we want to see a widespread decrease in student distress, action needs to be taken to actually take some pressure off of students instead of simply giving them tools to manage their stress after already piling on the assignments and obligations that cause so much anxiety.

The Gettysburgian’s Editorial Board wrote an excellent piece back in 2019 on the “stress culture” that has been perpetuated by students at Gettysburg and offered some ways that we can take action to deconstruct its toxicity, yet little has been done to implement this. Students constantly feel like they need to keep up with their peers, but no one acknowledges that most of the pressure is coming from themselves rather than from each other. If we want students to stop feeling social pressure from peers to always be engaged, we must first start with reassuring them that they need to put less pressure on themselves. If more students realize that they are not alone in feeling like they can’t keep up with those around them, then maybe they can see that the standard they are setting for themselves is oftentimes unrealistic.

If we want to see a widespread decrease in student distress, action needs to be taken to actually take some pressure off of students instead of simply giving them tools to manage their stress after already piling on the assignments and obligations that cause so much anxiety.

Furthermore, there is much more that professors can be doing to lighten the load on students as well. I think we have yet to acknowledge one of the main sources of mental distress at Gettysburg, which is that students are simply overloaded with schoolwork on top of their other commitments. Obviously the main reason we are here is to get an education, but there are many little things that professors can do that can add up in terms of taking some of the load off students: maybe adding fewer assignments, lowering word counts, being flexible with deadlines, requiring fewer sources per paper, or even offering a choice between exams and papers to make up a student’s grade since we all have different strengths and therefore cannot always be judged based off the same criteria.

It also helps when professors are clear about assignments from the very beginning of the semester; adding on assignments not listed in the syllabus is a major source of stress that can interfere with time management. Asking for a bit less work should not have to compromise the quality of education at Gettysburg. The fact that most other colleges have students taking five to six classes while the students here can, at times, barely manage four is proof in itself that we are overloaded. I believe if every professor made small adjustments here and there to lighten the workload, then it will add up and may help take some pressure off of students.

As for the students themselves—enough feeling pressure to do everything all the time. Be involved, but be human. We need to tackle the overall stress culture and unrealistically high expectations in addition to offering students breaks for self care. Because as it stands, no one seems to have the time for self care breaks. Or at least, they are under the impression that they don’t.

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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