Mental Health on Campuses, Especially During COVID

Last month, students flooded Eddie’s on two beautiful days in a  row here in New York City: one was a Wednesday which we had off, no classes, for a “mental health day”; the day before was a Tuesday, and it was the one-year anniversary of the infamous day in 2020 when Fordham students received an email saying that in-person classes were canceled for the rest of the day, and indefinitely.  On Monday, March 9th, 2020, students poured onto the campus green to celebrate having what we thought was probably a few days off from classes, maybe a week at home or two, and the brand-new experience of online school which many of us had not ever done before. 

A few days turned into a few weeks which turned into the rest of the semester which turned into a summer of lockdown. Fall 2020 was almost entirely online classes too, and, in spring 2021, you were lucky if you knew someone who had one or two in-person classes.  Fall 2021, hopefully, will be back to somewhat normal, with in-person classes and on-campus activities, but for the students who have spent an entire year indoors and online, has this experience already taken its toll?  Has it already been too great, too long, too much?  A myriad of academic studies has emerged since the start of the lockdown tracking the mental health of students, most of which show a great increase in the levels of depression and anxiety among teenagers and young adults due to social, academic and job-related pressures springing from the pandemic.  College administrators, after actually raising tuition prices over the summer due to “high financial tensions” caused by the pandemic, saw the stress and anxiety eating their students alive due to online classes, worsening grades, concern for our health, and generously, after canceling spring break, gave us one (1) day off in March to sit in the grass.

There are a few disclaimers to make here.  First of all, I know we’re all sick to death of the phrase “unprecedented times,” but schools really had no idea how to deal with online or hybrid classes, so I understand the extra stress on the administration to meet these new challenges for teachers and students.  That being said, online classes do not compare to in-person classes, and having to pay more for them feels slightly underhanded.  Second of all, canceling spring break in light of the pandemic was done so that students would not go home, or to vacation spots like Florida, and potentially spread COVID across the country or pick it up and bring it back to campus.  These things being said, I believe that Fordham has tried to do what it thinks is right by its students and teachers, but there is a fundamental disconnect between the administration and the way that students are living currently.  My friends and I are burnt out, mentally struggling to do final essays, projects and exams, and yet they keep coming.  Seniors are watching their last few weeks of what should have been the most exciting time of their lives simply slip away into the warm weather, unable to spend time with friends or, in some cases, even bring their families to New York for their graduation ceremonies.  Student-athletes and musicians, actors and activists: everyone on campus is feeling the effects of the loss of two semesters’ worth of extracurricular activities. With no spring break on the table, for perfectly valid reasons, what are colleges supposed to do with an ongoing student mental health crisis?  Well, perhaps they should do what they should have been doing all along.

Even before the pandemic, students’ mental health was a bit of a crisis on virtually every college campus.  Article after article has been posted about what schools can do to both aid students with mental health distress as well as prevent issues from arising in the first place.  This involves more access to psychological services, more opportunities to learn about life skills along with history and math, and, of course, wellness days.  I’m not sure if one Wednesday off (a day many students already don’t have classes) in the middle of months of Zoom fatigue cuts it, but it’s a start.  Even after college, students are or will be faced with a world unfamiliar to everyone, with a few but likely not enough resources to face post-graduation depression and the jarring shift from campus to corporate.  Colleges as a whole need to do better on the mental health front, especially now.  Students feel as though we’re losing valuable time, in our academic careers and simply in our lives as well.  Administrations need to take steps to show that they value their students themselves over our grades, their reputations or the university’s bottom line.