Timmerman: Mental health should be a priority during pandemic

Caleb Timmerman

As a university community, we have failed to rightfully address the issue of being human. Specifically, we have missed the target of prioritizing mental wellness in a time of uncertainty. 

Western culture dictates that the wellbeing of the mind and body are perceived as different. This is quite evident in the way Augustana has handled the current health crisis. The social distancing protocols and cancelation of most activities continue to take a heavy toll on mental wellness. Yet, Augustana has done little in caring for the wellness of its students and instead has fallen into the trap of prioritizing COVID-19 policies over mental wellness.

When students look to access mental health facilities, they can’t even do so on campus. Students have access to the campus clinic, located in the basement of Solberg, but are forced to enter an unfamiliar building off campus and search until they find where Sioux Falls Psychological is located. This alone deters many students from seeking out the help they need. 

If someone struggles with anxiety and the pandemic has made it worse, they’re probably not going to seek help in an unfamiliar location and increase their chances of embarrassing themselves by getting lost. Having direct access to a facility for physical wellness, while neglecting to establish a place to address mental wellness, shows just how little regard the university has for mental health.

Augustana may not entirely be to blame for the lack of foresight in regard to a mental wellbeing facility. Mental health has but recently come to hold a central position in society, so it holds reasonable that the university has not acted to implement such a space on-campus. 

However, the 2030 Plan offers no hope for this either. The vision uses flowery language to distract from the lack of actual goals being implemented offering little hope for any actual change. Not once is there a mention of expanding the capacity to care for the wellbeing of students in the 2030 goals. The plan aims to expand the student body, yet there is a lack of expansion for wellness facilities or mental health programs to address the increase of students on campus. 

Looking at the current situation, the university has opted to cut all breaks out of the fall 2020 semester. They have made the semester shorter in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19. By ending the semester before Thanksgiving, students are prevented from traveling home, potentially contracting COVID and, then, bringing it back to campus. 

While this may sound great in theory, it does not take into account the rigorous curriculum the university is known for. Not offering breaks to college students does nothing but wear on their mental wellbeing. 

A study conducted at the University of Southern California in 2012 found that breaks in the classroom and throughout the day are helpful in relieving stress and boosting productivity because they are essential in processing information. This same idea is applicable on a larger scale to a college semester. By eliminating breaks, a college student is not allowed downtime to catch up and recharge, which only worsens the issue of students experiencing burnout.

Augustana has put mental wellness on the backburner during this time of uncertainty, and there seems to be no intent to correct this in the future.

Editor’s note: Sioux Falls Psychological is offering Zoom sessions for students.

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