WEB EXCLUSIVE When a student wakes up with an agonizing migraine or sore throat, she usually emails her teachers and takes a sick day in order to recover, but if a student is dealing with a mental health issue, overexertion or working through a personal emergency, she is often uncomfortable expressing herself, as high stress levels and exhaustion are not universally viewed as valid reasons for a sick day.
While responses to sick day emails often include simple well wishes without further questioning such as “Take care of yourself” or “Please get some rest and feel better soon,” expressing the state of one’s mental health is often stigmatized and branded as “lazy” or an “excuse.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I am frequently reminded to practice social distancing and wear my mask when out and about in public. While those safety precautions are critical to everyone’s health and safety, remembering to be mindful of mental health should also be a top priority.
Taking time to better one’s mental health is just as valid and important as taking care of one’s physical health, and it is time that it becomes normalized.
I vividly remember feeling anxious and panicky about the state of the world and seeing the busy city I love so dearly suddenly become a ghost town in March. That anxiousness mellowed out as the months went on and I grew to be semi-optimistic as businesses, restaurants and campus started reopening.
Now, here we are 10 months later and in the midst of the holiday season — a time meant to be spent with family and friends — and we are no longer legally permitted to socialize with those outside our households, since health officials of Bay Area counties announced a planned stay-at-home order which will extend through Jan. 4.
Roughly 34% of Americans report their mental health has been excellent in 2020, which is down 43% from the same Gallup study conducted in 2019. This year has been unimaginably strenuous, especially for essential workers, minorities and those of lower socioeconomic statuses.
This pandemic has stripped all sense of normalcy and heightened anxiety, depression and stress levels for many Americans, and sometimes we all need to take a step back from work to take care of ourselves.
Teachers have three personal days a year for which they do not need to disclose the reason they need to take the day off. Offering a similar structure to students would empower them to foster a healthier work and life balance at a young age.
Learning to better manage my stress while knowing when to take a pause has been my saving grace — pun intended. Calling friends to chat, taking my favorite virtual exercise classes and knowing when to put down my textbooks in exchange for an extra hour of sleep are all ways I attempt to get in touch with my wellbeing.
Mental and physical health go hand in hand as they affect one another. Acknowledging the importance of one’s mental health is not a weakness. It is one of the strongest and most admirable things one can do.