Words by Aspasia Celia Tsampas
Illustrations by Katie Herchenroeder
Have you ever been encouraged to put your health before school? Taken a mental health day? And then felt way more stressed and anxious because of everything you missed?
You’re not alone. While we are moving toward a society that is aware of the struggles of Mental Health, we are still lacking in finding that balance between juggling Mental Health and a heavy course load. The internet has once again exposed our shortcomings on this aspect with a meme that went viral. It reads:
“Putting Mental Health before your education is great and all until it affects your education which affects your mental health which affects your education…”
You may be among the 500,000 people who have seen it, and if you haven’t you are most likely thinking about how relatable it really is. But what is the truth behind this joke that resonates with students everywhere and what do we do to ensure this vicious cycle comes to an end?
According to a study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 30% of students reported they struggled with school work because of a mental health issue, 50% of students rated their mental health below average, and 80% of students feel overwhelmed and stressed out in general by their responsibilities as a student. Yet, after all these scary stats, 75% of students will never seek help. Mental health is the number one cause of dropouts in college, suicide is the third leading cause of death in students, yet the stigma around mental health in students is still dangerously apparent.
For sophomore Victor LaLena, the stigma around mental illness in school was a big prevention factor in seeking assistance, “I was nervous to go to the school counselor or even talk to my professor about my stress and anxiety… I didn’t want to be put into some school database that may be able to affect me negatively later on… I didn’t want to admit any weakness.”
This idea that admitting you struggle with mental health, or that it is a “weakness” to be used against you, proves that simply putting CCNY’s learning accessibility policy on the syllabus just is not enough. Victor states, “Especially in New York City, everyone is striving to be perfect, appear perfect, and not only is it overwhelming for that person but it also affects those around them.” Attending university in the city means sacrificing college parties for year-round internships, working full time as a student, or overloading on credits.
The “Hustle Culture” in New York tells students that if they are not giving 110%, they are failing. If everyone is striving for this sense of inherently unattainable “perfection,” how is anyone going to be able to take a step back and realize that the risks do not outweigh the benefits? The grind truly does not stop.
Sayra Ilyas is a pre-med student at City College, goes to class five days a week and volunteers at a hospital on the weekends. For her, taking a break is not an option: “I once decided to take a ‘mental health day’ and felt infinitely more stressed out because of it. The way my classes are set up make it impossible to miss even one day, each day is crucial and catching up is difficult.”
Even if a student decided to take a “mental health day,” a form of “self-healing” that some have recently perpetuated, society needs to realize that mental health care is not a one-day process. It is long-term care; and rather than place it all on “self-help,” we should be focusing more on “community help.” This includes more understanding universities and standardizing our mental health education, encouraging dialogue about mental health, and empowering both students and professors with the knowledge they need.
Students need to be made aware that their “self-help” is only as productive as they make it. This does not mean going through this alone. “Self-help” is good in saying you are responsible for your own mental health and wellness, and should not feed into the stigma, but can at times enforce the notion of solitude in this process.
Reaching out is a form of “self-help” when you are doing it for your own well-being. Take advantage of school counselors and accommodation services. If taking a mental health leave from school is in the best interest for your success, do not be afraid to do so, in the end, you are only harming yourself by refusing your body and mind the care it requires. As for professors, ease student anxiety in the classroom. Students are more stressed out and working harder than ever before, become aware of the warning signs for anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns, validate a student’s feelings when they come to you for help, be mindful of how you handle the situation and how that affects the student’s academic ability as a whole.
Managing a mental health illness and other issues can be challenging in college, but it does not have to be impossible. The vicious cycle of choosing between your mental health and education should not be a risk and benefit trade-off. It shouldn’t be a matter of putting one before the other, but rather working together to create an environment of healthy learning and advancement, even if that means destroying the stigma one meme at a time.