World Mental Health Day is October 10, and according to a Jan. 22, 2014, CNN article, creative people are more prone to mental health struggles. On a campus full of artists and performers, Columbia students are well aware.
There is a high-pressure culture on campus driven by creativity. We are encouraged to always work on projects outside of class, to take on demanding jobs in our field and, often, to do more than we can handle.
Classwork often requires as many hours of homework as hours spent in class. This is the equivalent of two part-time jobs even, and many classes offer little room for accommodation.
To get accommodations for a mental illness, students have to file a formal diagnosis with a disability office—a lot to ask of someone with symptoms that affect their ability to function. The alternative is to suffer in silence under the weight of their workload and others’ expectations. Some teachers allow doctor’s notes for excused absences, but how can a student be expected to get a note if they can’t get out of bed?
Three therapy dogs in a crowded library twice a year is not enough. Waitlisting students who are “non emergencies” for counseling is unacceptable. Some organizations are picking up the slack. Black Student Union, for example, hosts a mental health meeting at least once per academic year, but it should not be the responsibility of students to do what the college fails to.
Many colleges have lenient absence policies that allow students to take mental health days, but Columbia is an outlier in this regard. DePaul University’s absence policy includes mental health specifically as a valid reason to miss class, and Roosevelt’s states that professors are only required to take attendance in the first two weeks.
Most Columbia department policies state that if a student misses more than two or three classes, they will fail. Some courses do not allow any absences before grades are impacted. Students should not have to choose between their mental health and their education.
This attitude of constant work has created a culture of rampant mental illness on campus. The positive side of this culture is that students are open to discussions about mental illness and there is less stigma than at colleges with fraternity-esque cultures, for example. The downside is that this openness is mistaken for understanding and growth, while the reality is that most of us use black humor and sarcasm as a shield. The Black Sheep’s Columbia team publishes articles including “4 Columbia Campus Buildings to Joke About Dropping Out In” that highlight this attitude.
We are not advocating for no homework and time to nap during class, but we deserve understanding and accommodation. The counseling center may not want to take on students who are not in immediate crisis, but pushing away people who want to seek help could have deadly consequences. If students are required to pay more than $20,000 to go here per year, they should be allowed to do it on terms that allow them not just to struggle by, but to thrive.