There is no spring break or Easter break on the academic calendar for the spring 2021 semester at PLNU. However, the university is giving students “two mental health breaks in the semester, one about a third into the semester (Thursday, March 31) and one about a third from the end of the semester (Wednesday, May 5),” according to the email sent on April 1 to the undergraduate student body from Holly Irwin, the vice provost for academic administration.
When PLNU planned these mental health days, “The university looked at best practices from small, liberal arts institutions that opened in the fall 2020 semester and learned that mental health days were provided as a priority to students,” Irwin said in an interview with The Point. “Based on PLNU’s fall experience, we felt that this would be good practice for us this spring.”
Due to the pandemic, “Students have long been prone to stress, anxiety and depression,” Irwin added. “According to the CDC, three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 report poor mental health tied to the pandemic.”
PLNU nursing major Geneva Low said the pandemic changed the “normal” way of attending school and not having breaks during the semester is disappointing.
“I think mental health days were smart and with good intentions, but it wasn’t planned in favor of students,” Low said.
Having two mental health days may help PLNU avoid a major coronavirus breakout, but do they actually help students’ mental health? Provost and Chief Academic Officer Kerry Fulcher said in an interview with The Point, “We learned from many schools that did meet face-to-face in the fall, that the best day to offer these needed breaks from remote/hybrid modalities was Wednesday since it had the least impact on encouraging student travel as days closer to the weekend might do. This is especially important where schools are operating a robust COVID testing process to ensure the ongoing safety of the campus community as traffic in and out of a campus community significantly increases the risk of COVID transmission and outbreaks.”
Considering the breaks are only two individual days over the course of the semester, Low said, “I think students need more than a day in a week.”
According to an article by Dr. Ashley Hampton, a licensed psychologist and systems strategist, “If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, have trouble focusing or concentrating on work or at home, or are more irritable, then you may want to consider taking a mental health day. If you think about your life as a plate with sections for work, family, life and things you like to do, and the plate is overflowing in all areas but the things you like to do, it is time for you to take a break and participate in self-care.”
Hampton said, “Remember that your mental health is just as important to your overall well-being as your physical health.”
Suicide Prevention Resource Center reported, “Mental health problems can affect many areas of students’ lives reducing their quality of life, academic achievement, physical health, and satisfaction and negatively impacting relationships with friends and family members.”
According to Low, “Students need more than 24 hours to reset.”
“We are balancing student health and experience as much as possible,” Irwin said. “It has to be balanced with risk. Most other private universities are not as open as we are. We chose a more robust student face-to-face experience and had to balance that with risk.”
Even though students will experience this semester without their regular breaks from school, it is possible mental health days will continue in the future.
Once PLNU returns to regular scheduling, “we will have the regularly programmed breaks our calendar afforded, allowing for student respite,” Irwin said.
Students like Low, however, would prefer to have normal holiday breaks back. She said, “I don’t know if mental health days should become permanent, but I do think the academic schedule should move around to include holidays like spring break or Easter break.”
After experiencing a 24-hour rest day, Low added, “Having mental health days are essential for students and faculty to have the time to themselves. Even though we still may miss the long breaks, we all need to sacrifice at some point.”
By: Taylor Nakaoka