When a student at Carnegie Mellon University committed suicide last month, CMU began a campaign to address the issue of mental health on their campus. Like Case Western Reserve University, CMU has a reputation of rigor. While a hefty work load and commitment to academic studies seems an integral part of a good education, it seems timely to question the role of stress and work in the college experience. How does mental health rank on our list of priorities, and what does this indicate about our priorities?
At CWRU, there is an expectation of long days followed by late nights. A sense of unity is fostered by our respective overwhelming workloads. If you want to start up a conversation, a good bet is to mention a lack of either sleep or sanity. At schools where engineering and science majors dominate the student body, a close relationship to one’s studies is an established aspect of the college experience.
Accomplishment is measured by the extent of one’s commitment to work; many of us have learned to assume that stress is an expectation for gaining success and indicative of a job well done. While academic achievements rise to the forefront, the happiness and mental health of a student can fall to the wayside. Considering college-age students are more susceptible to mental and emotional conditions than other age groups, our mental health should be considered essential during this period of our lives.
No matter which college you attend, the transition to university life is bound to cause anxiety. When students leave for college, they leave behind the safety net of home and the high school where they flourished. A considerable fraction of our student body ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class; even disregarding ranking, we are dealing with a community of young men and women who are accustomed to being distinguished.
Once a motivated student tastes the top, few wish to relinquish their position. The beauty of college is the sense of solidarity found in a community of like-minded peers; the hidden danger is the stress to rise above to claim your piece of the pie. The environment created by this frame of mind is undeniably detrimental to a student’s mental health.
The role of health relative to success is a relationship that loses importance for many students. Balance is the term thrown around when a stressful work load is called into question. Moderation is the catchphrase used by any number of people outside of the college community. As a community of motivated students, moderation is not the ideal by which we live. Coffee is our water, naps replace sleep, and books outnumber conversations.
It is difficult to separate stress from the tasks that face us – finding internships and keeping up grades supersede one’s need for a good night’s sleep. This is the root of our problem: we as students have come to respect a relentless passion for success more than an overall sense of well-being.
Perhaps we have lost perspective. The culmination of our college career will hopefully lead to a life driven by purpose and brimming with happiness. However, the journey to our future shouldn’t be a frantic dash towards graduation during which we ignore our emotions and struggles. As a community, we are responsible for the environment we create.
Looking to CMU’s recent discussion about the possibly of a crushing sense of stress on campus, perchance it is time to consider the environment we foster. We must remember that at the end of the day, we are here to further our minds without losing sight of the big picture. We must strive to be happy and seek help if our mental health is in jeopardy.