Falling behind in class due to burnout, personal difficulties, or lack of motivation is not uncommon among students. When sanity declines, so do grades.
A study in the 2020-2021 school year revealed that more than 60% of students meet the criteria for at least one mental health disorder. Among others, this could include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
“If you’re feeling good and okay with where you are, or even if you recognize that you’re having challenges right now, that will translate into the work you produce and the way you engage in the classroom,” said Novotny Lawrence, associate professor of journalism and English.
Lawrence insists on being open and honest with professors about mental health, as it builds communication and empathy. However, it is important that teachers do not cross a personal boundary.
“You never want to make a student feel like you’re trying to get into their personal life because it’s not right, and we don’t need to,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes you can tell where a student started and then you see their work start to dwindle and you can kind of see behavioral signs that something is not going so well.”
When a student turns in work that doesn’t meet the standard they previously set, Lawrence uses it to check with the student. This could be asking if the poor grade was due to a misunderstanding in the material or being there to support the student if a personal issue was affecting them or their mental health.
“I think it’s become a little more acceptable to talk about it in our society, because I grew up in a time when we didn’t talk about mental health. It was ‘Suck it up, what’s- what you do?’ “Said Lawrence. “The more we become open and talk about it and we feel comfortable with it; I start to see more cases.
With struggling students, Lawrence recommends on-campus resources, such as Student Advisory Services.
For daily help, leading psychology professor Carolyn Cutrona recommends getting enough sleep, exercising, and starting a gratitude journal. Here someone can list what they are grateful for and what went well that day.
“When your mental health goes down, everything goes down,” Cutrona said. “If you’re so depressed and anxious that you can’t go to class, you can’t do your job, you can’t leave your room, it’s definitely time to get help.”
“I think the post-COVID environment has been difficult for everyone,” said journalism professor Daniela Dimitrova. “I definitely found that my students needed more support. It can even be by keeping the door open and saying, “I have office hours for students. And not just saying “I have office hours”, but inviting people to come talk to me. I’ve noticed that that one-on-one support and conversation is really important.
Dimitrova acknowledges that for some, mental health is still a taboo subject to discuss. She agrees that the on-campus resources provided are most beneficial and includes them in her course curriculum.
“It’s hard for someone to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I have a mental health issue,'” Dimitrova said. “Open communication is more about being proactive in saying what the resources are and inviting them to come in and talk if they want to. But also normalize that this is a challenge that is not unusual, and that many people in the United States and other countries experience it, and make it acceptable to discuss it.
In addition to professional resources, it is important to have a group that a student feels comfortable discussing mental health with. Dimitrova recommends finding a support system of friends or family to talk to.