A call to action: Kim's story

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, April 21st, 2016 at 8:07 AM
A call to action: Kim's story by Kimberly Firestine
Contributed Photo

Some days, I can wake up at 9 a.m. and go to the gym before class. I can pay close attention to lectures. I can pump out an article or two with no trouble.

Some days, I can eat healthy foods and walk from Earp Hall to Compton Hall in five minutes flat. I can get my homework done as soon as I get out of class and take the longer walk to the Frank G. Pogue Student Center.

Some days, I can shower before bed and remember to brush my teeth at night. I can be rest assured I did everything I needed to and get a good night’s sleep.

Other days, I hit snooze eight times. I have trouble opening my eyes in the morning and use the blackout shade in my dorm as an excuse to stay in bed. I watch the clock as 10 and 11 a.m. roll by without me moving an inch.

Other days, I can’t even force myself to pull back the blankets and lift my head off of my pillow. I fight with myself from the second I realize I’m going to be late for class if I don’t get up. I have outbursts even I don’t understand and ruin relationships that may never be fixed. Depending on the day, I either sleep for 14 hours or don’t sleep at all.

While my mental illnesses have never been professionally diagnosed, half of me thinks I have an idea of what’s going on and the other half of me is too terrified to find out.

This past fall, I sought help privately every other week from the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the Ghering Health and Wellness center on campus. For those who are unaware, students are allowed 10 free services through CAPS per academic year.

I’m not going to say it was completely good or completely useless for me, because while I was never really able to open up, I still got some great advice from the counselor I was assigned to.

I’ve come to realize I never could open up because I felt it was more of me burdening someone else with my problems than a professional using my experiences to guide me to a better way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. Other than sleeping until 3 p.m. and skipping meals for days at a time, that is.

I have always been too afraid to seek professional help for my problem, because most people associate poor mental health with insane asylums, rather than people who just need a little extra help now and then. I never wanted to turn to prescription drugs because I fear that I would not be able to control myself and I would end up spiraling into an addiction — a fear, ironically, brought on by anxiety.

The days that I can’t get out of bed mostly happen over weekends, but sometimes they carry over to the weekdays and I miss class.

As Edinboro’s attendance policy stands — Policy A062, adopted in 1995 — a student cannot miss more than one week’s worth of class unless excused by a doctor’s note, an excuse by family emergency and so on.

The policy states “The course instructor is encouraged to consider class attendance in determining the final grade. When a student exceeds the allowable number of unexcused absences, the instructor shall indicate this fact on the final grade report, to be recorded in the student’s official academic history.”

For some, this means that if you miss more than three days of a three-times-a-week class, you can lose attendance points or even drop an entire letter grade in the class.

What better way to pile onto the anxiety than knowing that if you can’t physically get yourself out of bed because of the crippling weight of your mental health, you may also fail your class and risk having to stay a whole extra semester because of it?

According to a 2013 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, the top concern among college students was anxiety, followed closely by depression and relationship problems.

Why aren’t mental illnesses treated the same as physical illnesses? Some might argue that one could just go to the health center, get a note from a counselor and it will be treated the same as a regular doctor’s note.

For some people, yes. That absolutely is the solution. But what about those days when you can’t get out of bed? Or when there’s a two week wait list — which often happens with campus health centers — and you can’t get an excuse right away?

I’m sure Edinboro’s attendance policy was established so that students are forced to attend class and get an education worth their money. But what it fails to consider is the fact that sometimes students just need a break.

It’s an outdated system created when nobody wanted to talk about the fact that they couldn’t do their homework because they had a complete breakdown the night before. It was established when the idea that someone needed a day off to cry and let themselves settle was considered weak and unnecessary.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center stated in 2012, “suicide is a leading cause of death among college and university students in the United States. In addition, many other college and university students have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide.”

While some colleges and universities, such as Ohio State, have implemented programming to help students get help for their friends and themselves when they need it, there are no reports of allocating students days off for mental health issues that cannot simply be excused by a doctor’s note.

I propose a challenge to Edinboro University: be the first. Implement a policy that allows students to have a “mental health day” or two a semester. Set an example for the rest of a society that still stigmatizes mental illnesses.

Kimberly Firestine is a Senior Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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