On Monday, students received an email from President Clayton Rose detailing one of the College’s new virtual initiatives: Mental Health Moments. Designed by nationally-renowned mental health advocate Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas ’89, Mental Health Moments is a program in which students receive weekly mental health tips in the form of an email from Assistant Director of Residential Life Celeste Hynes.
Although the mental health advice has been advertised as realistic and achievable, it is not fulfilling its promise so far.
The first week’s tip discussed students’ sleep schedules, advising them to get an adequate amount each night and to “stop activating activity at least one hour before bedtime.” However, with many students being stretched thin by the virtual workload—engaging in hours of online classes per day, as well as participating in clubs, sports and other activities—getting eight to nine hours of sleep every night and reducing screen time in the evening is not always a feasible option.
Students are commonly on Zoom calls until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. and using their laptop or iPad to complete homework assignments through the wee hours of the morning.
The initiative, while providing generic and possibly unrealistic advice, has also thus far failed to address the COVID-19-specific mental health challenges that many students are struggling with, such as health-related anxiety, the loss of loved ones, increased isolation, more screen time and financial stressors.
At a time when students are overwhelmed, discouraged and battling feelings of hopelessness, advising them to improve their sleep schedule and decrease their screen time is simply not an adequate mental health tip, especially when these factors are not within their control.
How can students adapt to loneliness and isolation? How can they recover from loss? After losing over a year of normal life, how can they retain a shred of optimism for the future? These questions need answers. Generic mental health tips will never be solutions.
Rather than a band-aid solution in the form of informational videos and vague emails, students, faculty and staff would benefit from more concrete, structural changes. In the midst of the pandemic, when nearly all aspects of life are out of students’ control, they deserve at least one constant in the form of support from the College.
With controversial reductions in the lengths of spring break and reading period, all members of the campus community are put under further strain from the academic calendar and class expectations. Professors are faced with decisions about taking away time from certain class concepts, cutting some material entirely or generally overextending both themselves and their students.
Obviously, we understand the need to push back the start date of classes for the safety of the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities. However, making up for lost time through cutting spring break and reading period creates a mental health and pedagogical challenge for students, and it could have drastic impacts on wellbeing and learning outcomes. The lack of clear directives and suggestions for how to handle this situation from administrators further compounds the problem, leaving professors making their own choices about what is appropriate to expect of students under these circumstances.
In the end, the responsibility to establish a manageable academic calendar and create and support genuine improvements in programming for students’ mental health rests with the administration of the College.
Put simply, students deserve more support than they are currently being offered, and they must not accept the Mental Health Moments as a satisfactory program.
The pandemic has created a time of confusion, sacrifice and loss for everybody, and an adequate response from the administration must address these traumas. Future mental health programming requires open and honest discussions about loss and trauma that are facilitated through collaboration among President Clayton Rose, the administration and the Counseling Department.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Editorial Board, which is comprised of Sofie Brown, Tucker Ellis, Julia Jennings, Kate Lusignan, Nina McKay, Emily Staten and Ayub Tahlil.