In light of the recent survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which highlights an increase in symptoms of depression amongst college freshmen, we at the Phoenix feel that the college should be doing more to address issues of mental health amongst the student body.
According to the survey data, students who reported feeling depressed also reported that they often felt overwhelmed by work. This might be a normal correlation, but we feel that this problem is heightened at the College, where academic rigor and minimal opportunities for socializing can exacerbate the everyday stresses felt by college students.
While Swarthmore provides access to mental health resources such as CAPS, it does not do enough to encourage good mental health amongst students. The culture of academics at the college breeds stress in a harmful way, and in priding itself on this culture of intensity, in many ways cultivates the environmental factors that precipitate symptoms of depression.
During orientation, instead of jokingly lauding “misery poker” and other quintessentially “Swattie” coping mechanisms to handle stress, we should be making freshmen aware of the signs of depression and other stress-related illnesses and encouraging healthy practices of managing academic stress.
Furthermore, professors should also be made more aware of the exceptional pressures placed on students at the college and should be more respectful of these pressures by acknowledging the demands of the various commitments that Swarthmore students have.
Mental health is by no means encouraged solely through academic resources, however. The College should also support other means of alleviating the stresses induced on campus. Instead of handing out party hats and Mardi Gras beads during midterms week, we should be investing in more legitimate and meaningful means ways of reducing the stress that in many way defines academic culture at the college. Such techniques could include purchasing SEPTA tickets to allow students to relieve stress by getting off campus, bringing more engaging entertainers to campus to give students a brief respite from their academic toils, or making dining hours and library hours longer during testing weeks.
Ultimately, insofar as the college’s mission is to help students “realize their full intellectual and personal potential” and “prepare themselves for full, balanced lives,” the college should be taking the issue of mental health more seriously. Investing in more meaningful forms of stress relief and encouraging a respect amongst administrators and faculty for the immense pressures that Swarthmore students face is crucial to student success both in the classroom and later in life.