End of Semester Too Late to Effectively Address Stress

The Editorial Board

As college students, we are subject to intensely formulaic cycles of stress, generally culminating in a few hellishly busy weeks at the end of the semester during which we eschew social conventions, like changing our sweatpants regularly, in favor of consuming unnatural amounts of caffeine. For most of us, this severe period of stress will not prepare us for our post-academic lives, since most assessments in the “real world” don’t follow such an artificially regimented sequence.

But stress isn’t just a problem during the relatively short midterms and finals periods. And though the majority of us deal with high levels of stress throughout the semester, it’s only at the tail end of the academic year that the majority of mental health offerings are most apparent; OSWELL schedules activities including coloring sessions, one-minute dance parties and a visit from therapy dogs to help students deal with increased finals-related anxiety.

While these may be useful tools for some to combat acute instances of test-related panic, it can also feel trivializing,when we are told that the answer to our problem is just taking a break from whatever work we’re frantically attempting to complete Especially since the one surefire strategy to target the source of the stress is just to tackle the onslaught of projects and assessments hanging over our heads.
More importantly, by the time we reach the conclusion of the semester, it’s already too late to effectively address the significant mental wellness issues faced by many students on campus. What Obies need is a far more consistent and far-reaching approach, which would require additional resources at the administrative level.

The Counseling Center is the only source of mental health services for many students during their time at Oberlin, particularly for those who lack financial resources to pay for treatment off campus. This past year, the Counseling Center only referred 9 percent of patients to outside therapists. Though they added a new staff member this year, the Counseling Center could benefit from additional staffing. At this time of year, it can take three weeks to get an appointment with the Counseling Center psychiatrist. Even patients looking to see a therapist can still have a hard time securing an appointment at a time that fit into their packed schedules. The small staff means that a good patient-therapist match might not be found on the first or second try. With more funding, the staff could be expanded to suit the real, omnipresent needs of students.

This problem is compounded by the absence of other practicing psychiatrists in Oberlin. Even if a student has the financial resources to obtain additional or alternate services outside the Counseling Center, travelling outside Oberlin in order to reach these doctors can be an insurmountable impediment. Beyond student needs, this kind of barrier to mental health care points to larger socioeconomic problems in Lorain County. What keeps Oberlin students from accessing mental health care beyond the Counseling Center could entirely prohibit low-income residents from accessing mental health care at all.

Further allocation of funds by the College to support mental health would allow more students to receive effective treatment and help the administration pool resources before we hit a critical mass of demand. This demand extends beyond just finals and midterms; an especially high number of students may need access to mental healthcare services after events like last semester’s hate-related incidents or in the case of a national disaster.

Additionally, programs that begin at the start of the semester in which students, perhaps in particular first-years, learn about making healthy life choices, such as getting regular exercise and not overcommitting to extracurricular activities, could be far more effective than waiting until the last weeks of the year when free time is at such a premium. Aiming to break stress-inducing habits sooner rather than later could elicit greater turnout with more overarching results.

Programs like these could help supplement the important work that some student-led groups like Active Minds do to promote mental health wellness continuously throughout the semester. Student groups play a vital role since, in order for offered services to be effective, they must be embraced and utilized by students.

As we are calling for student access to more thorough mental health services, it’s necessary to recognize that the majority of people in the U.S. don’t have access to this level of mental health care. As Oberlin students, we are easily, and rightfully, frustrated when we feel the services we receive don’t measure up to the College’s price tag, though these issues extend to a national discussion.

The scope of these concerns, reaches beyond the sphere of the College, and even the town. Access to healthcare necessary for mental well-being should be a right, rather than a privilege, for more than just tuition-paying Obies.