Students’ mental health should not be overlooked

Photo courtesy: Bay Atlantic University

The transition to the end of the semester is always challenging for students who now have to prepare for finals. The stress of a heavy workload can be detrimental to students’ mental health, and learning to balance it all requires work.

Mental health is a significant part of self-care, but while many recognize it as necessary, students still struggle to pursue the help they need.

Burnout among college students is a topic that has generated various conversations online and on Florida A&M University’s campus. Students have become exhausted trying to keep up, resulting in a lack of motivation and feeling mentally and emotionally drained.

Those already struggling with mental disorders, like fourth-year psychology student JuKyah Gay, find it more difficult to cope. Gay was diagnosed with social anxiety and depression before coming to FAMU.

“I have overcome many obstacles, most of which are incomparable to the growth and development I surmounted,” Gay said. “I would frequently have periods of super lows that I initially thought were normal to just feel sad and not have much energy at times to do the average daily task.”

Gay chose her major because it resonated with her journey, and she hopes to give back to those with similar experiences. According to the American Psychology Association, many people study psychology on a collegiate level and go into the field to gain a better understanding of themselves and their mental health concerns.

While psychology students seek answers within their textbooks, others often feel they have nowhere to turn.

Senior business administration student Jalen Mason says he wishes he felt more comfortable opening up to his professors throughout the semester about the obstacles he faces with his mental health.

“It would definitely be helpful for [professors] to notice when their students are burnt out so they can push dates back and help us with the workload, and so we could also have another source to vent to,” Mason said. “I definitely think before I talk to my parents, if I could have a conversation with my professor, that would help as well. They’re experienced and have degrees, so hearing their viewpoint on how I can fix so on and help my mental health would be helpful to some students who don’t have parents and are scholars or parents that have degrees.”

Some students feel that when the semester starts to wind down, and the weight of their coursework becomes heavier, their professors fail to recognize the signs that their falling behind on coursework is actually part of their mental health decline.

FAMU Provost Allyson Watson says faculty may not always recognize the signs of burnout. However, they receive assistance through the university’s Teaching and Learning Center, where webinars are hosted to help identify and address those signs in the classroom.

“Faculty also are encouraged to look for signs among students who may need attention,” Watson said. “As a faculty member, I would often take mindful moments in the beginning and end of class to prepare for learning and then reflect on what has been learned. I also would tend to use nature sounds like a winding creek, ocean waves, or a nature trail at the beginning of class to have students relax before the intense learning would begin.”

Provost Watson also says it’s crucial students “take advantage of campus services available to them” through resources like the Office of Counseling Services. Fortunately, FAMU offers different programs and counseling services aimed at helping students seek the help they need.

Among these programs is a new partnership with BetterMynd, which provides virtual counseling to students within the first 24-48 hours of registration, and several vacancies are available for the spring semester.

Anika Fields, a licensed psychologist and representative for OCS, says she does not feel that there has been an over-reliance on her department to navigate students’ mental health because while it is their main priority, staff are “invited to participate and/or lead” classroom outreaches within the semester.

“We are the Office of Counseling Services; providing counseling to students is our primary job. It is not the primary job of faculty, other staff, or the administration,” Fields said. “That being said, I do believe faculty, other staff, and the administration should be able to recognize signs of mental health problems in students, colleagues, and themselves and know what to say and do.”

Fields says Kognito and QPR Suicide Prevention training are also offered several times during the semester.

“Individuals who have taken one or both trainings indicate that they feel more at ease recognizing signs and knowing how to help the student in distress,” Fields said.

The university actively works to account for students’ mental health needs, but for some, asking for help is not easy, especially when their low points are portrayed in the work submitted for their courses.

“The encounters I have had with professors, obviously in distress about my grade, on top of whatever adversities I face, always result in the suggestion of counseling. We discuss its benefits, and it usually ends there,” Gay said. “In my experience, I have found that unless I have already formed an interpersonal relationship with my instructor, deep, specific information about resources on campus would not be provided; it’s usually up to me to find the appropriate resources.”

When the topic of pushing deadlines is brought up, some professors are reluctant to accommodate one or a few students’ requests if others are able to complete their work within the proper timeline. However, students are not monoliths, and sometimes, their way of asking for help is asking for more time.

While FAMU’s departments, like OCS, continue to work to improve and progress their methods of providing mental health resources to students, faculty and staff should ensure they do their part in recognizing signs of students struggling.

Students must also find ways to push forward, which does not have to be done alone. FAMU’s counseling center accepts appointments and walk-ins and is available to students on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.