A typical college workload was not designed to allow for sick days. Syllabi are handed out at the beginning of the semester and professors are generally strict on enforcing deadlines. While some professors may be somewhat obliging when a bout of sickness causes one of their students to miss a deadline, no professor would allow a student to hand in an assignment late if the student said that he had to take a “mental health day.” While the reality of mental illness is becoming more easily accepted in the media and in our society in general, there are still people who do not have diagnosed mental illnesses who go through extremely mentally taxing periods in their lives. The college structure does not have the appropriate resources or accommodations for those instances.
I have read this statement in nearly every syllabus I’ve been given: “Accommodations: SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities.” Its meaning is clear: Geneseo is obligated to help students who have documented physical or mental problems that prohibit them from learning. A student can submit a grievance appeal to the Dean’s office to account for classes missed if one of their close friends or relatives passes away, but there is no similar procedure for students who are dealing with any other stressful life events.
Stress can be extremely overwhelming. According to University of Massachusetts, Amherst psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, chronic stress decreases our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions and avoid injury. Stress also decreases our mental capacities. Stress can cause feelings of irritability and depression that can lead to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness. This is why stressed students should be allowed mental health days.
In a four-year study conducted by the Harvard Business School, employees were forced to take time off even when they did not think they should be away from the office. The study showed that over time, workers who took time off were more satisfied with their jobs. Downtime in the form of mental health days gives individuals time to restore attention and motivation, allowing students to further excel amidst the stresses of college.
The only obvious concern with taking mental health days lies in the fact that once a person takes a short break from work, it will become harder for that person to catch up later. If an extremely stressed person suffers for an extended period of time wherein other aspects of that person’s life also suffer, however, I believe that most people would agree that taking a mental health day is a better alternative.
College can certainly be a very stressful and mentally draining period in a person’s life. While taking a day off will not fix problems in the long run, dedicating an entire day to focusing on self-care can do wonders. Geneseo should have more resources in place for people who are dealing with extreme mental stress and who need a mental health day.