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EDITORIAL: More 'normal' semester calls for increased attention to mental health

As we come back on campus for what seems like a typical semester, we must continue to be mindful of our mental health

As Rutgers returns to an almost pre-pandemic semester, students and the University must continue to prioritize mental health services.  – Photo by Pixabay.com

The beginning of the semester is always ripe with stress: Between new classes and professors, trying to keep up with old friends and making new ones, the semester always brings about certain anxieties. These concerns are nothing new and something we have to contend with every semester.

This semester, though, these worries are different and perhaps even more pronounced. While we are grateful to be back on campus and in-person classes greatly outweigh virtual classes, there are some challenges in returning to in-person learning after two weeks of virtual instruction.

The issue goes deeper, though, than just the two weeks of remote learning. This semester — the fifth contending with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — feels like more of a return to pre-pandemic college life: More courses are in person, and campus is more fully populated. It certainly feels like a bustling college campus again.

While these things are good and should be celebrated, they also come with their own unique set of challenges.

A standard in-person semester requires not just the commitment to coursework, but also commute times and the ability to go into classrooms with a lot of people. The commitments to in-person learning transcend just coursework and affect our social and emotional well-being.

Everyone is happy that this semester feels more normal. But that does not mean that returning to this type of learning — especially after the difficulties of these past few years — is easy.

Students should proceed through the semester with the understanding that we are more than grades or our varied commitments. We must take time for our own self-care and mental health as these things are just as important as our commitments to school and social life.

Destressing does not have to be overly complicated. It can be as simple as unplugging and going for a walk or catching up with friends. These types of activities can keep us grounded and relaxed. We reduce stress by feeling connected to our friends and ourselves.

For those students who have returned to campus life but still feel isolated, clubs and other activities should sponsor events to draw prospective members. These events should be laid back and personal, where students feel they can go and create a community.

Clubs and student organizations serve a fundamental role in reducing stress as they provide an outlet for students to escape work, school and other pressures.

Although students can take these steps, some things are out of their control. Classes, for example, often cause stress. Professors should be mindful of the added pressures this semester entails, and they should be as accommodating as possible. To accommodate does not mean weakening standards — rather, it means being flexible and helping students produce their best quality work.

One action professors should take is to provide flexibility concerning deadlines. If a student approaches them and says they need extra time to complete an assignment, professors should be understanding. Professors should also set clear guidelines about COVID-19 classroom protocol that adheres to University policy.

While these are steps that both students and professors should be taking to create the best environment as possible, some problems will still undoubtedly emerge. To that end, Rutgers must keep students informed about the wide array of student health and wellness services.

Francesca Maresca, the interim assistant vice chancellor for health and wellness, has sent detailed emails describing where and how students can seek help.

Services described include Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Let’s Talk and the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance. These programs are designed to make students feel safe, heard and healthy on campus. As these continue to be challenging times, their services have become vital to college students.

These types of email blasts must continue throughout the semester as they center the students’ experience and recognize what students are going through and offer help. Students should take advantage of these resources, especially because they are free and on campus.

College is busy. There are often many due dates and many social pressures. All of that can pile up and feel overwhelming, especially after these past few years. As we enter this new semester, a seemingly more normal one, we must be mindful and prioritize ourselves.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue or substance abuse, do what you can to support them and have them reach out to CAPS.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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