Students Studying in HUB

Katherine Stern (sophomore-division of undergraduate studies) studies in the HUB-Robeson Center on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

College in itself is already an anxious time that takes a toll on the mental health of students. But when coupled with rising tuition prices, isolation from the pandemic and toxic productivity, said mental health has marred worse than ever.

According to a survey from BestColleges, 95% of students surveyed experienced some form of negative mental health symptoms as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 48% of those said the effects of their mental health were impacting their education.

Yet, mental health as a whole has become a prevalent topic of discussion outside of the pandemic — with an aim to end the stigma surrounding those who suffer from it. To add to it, there’s a negative stigma surrounding the lifestyle of college students, too.

Whether it be poor diet habits or pulling all-nighters to complete work, the predetermined notion of what college is sets the wrong expectation for incoming freshmen who are already adjusting to the new structure of education. It should not be a bragging contest to see who can eat the least amount of food or how little you slept last night.

This plays into the aforementioned toxic productivity that plagues the daily lives of many where, unless every waking moment of time is devoted to work, then it’s futile. As important as it is to work hard in classes and extracurriculars, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to neglect your mental and physical being. Students shouldn’t have to feel guilty for dedicating parts of their day to activities not related to school.

While learning to balance day-to-day activities and a social life is a part of the college experience, there seems to be no opportunity to take time for oneself. Either you allocate the majority of your time to work or get behind a day and end up playing catch-up — both of which affect the mental health of students negatively.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State began implementing wellness days to give students a break from classes to focus on their emotional and social wellness. While it sounds great as a concept, this did not stop professors from assigning work to compensate for the “day off.” This also did not excuse the rest of work due that day for other classes, making wellness days a time to get caught up on assignments — not for mental health.

The transition to virtual learning also dealt a blow to the mental health of students, as the coupling of being boxed in a room while staring at a screen all day with the uptick in assigned work didn’t result in a positive impact on overall well-being.

To see an improvement in the mental health of students, a change is needed in the educational system. It is of great importance for the higher ups at Penn State to encourage students to value their mental health and prioritize it when necessary. There are already professors who emphasize this, setting a standard for more to follow suit.

Another way to allot more time for students to work on their mental health is a change in deadlines. Rather than have assignments bleed into the weekend, why not have them due on Friday? Granted, weekdays might be more hectic, but students will now have two days to themselves without having to worry about the proverbial “Sunday scaries.”

Mental health may not be something tangible everyone can bear witness to, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. While there are programs in place like Penn State’s Counseling & Psychological Services combined with the implementation of wellness days, there’s still more to be done.

This is not just a Penn State issue, rather a collegiate issue. College shouldn’t be viewed as a competition for who can do the most work while sacrificing in other aspects of life. The education system should be one that feels rewarding, not deflating.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

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