Mental illness creates barriers to student learning
According to College Board, the average college or university student will skip 240 classes by the time they graduate. For many students at North Dakota State, those classes may be missed due to social engagements, disinterest in the class material or the perceived notion that attending class is unnecessary. Those affected by illnesses such as anxiety or depression miss for entirely different reasons.
One freshman student, who chose to remain anonymous, explained her experience this year. Depression kept her from attending three of her classes for over a month. “The classes I missed were the most interactive, the most mentally taxing. I couldn’t focus,” she said. As she explained, it was impossible to attend classes that required so much social interaction when she could hardly interact with her closest friends.
When grades started to become an issue, this individual contacted the professors directly. “For the most part, they were understanding,” she said. However, one of her professors simply replied with the following email: “You should consider withdrawing from this class.”
Even with the support of several faculty members, there was no guidance in place to help the professors or this individual come back from a month of missed classes. This student plans on dropping out of NDSU following the end of the spring semester.
Issues with professors understanding are not the only hurdles students with mental illness face. It appears that the programs in place to help students aren’t always successful either.
Three separate students all recalled similar experiences of making appointments at the Counseling Center, being promised someone would follow up after the appointment and never hearing back.
As one student recalled, “It’s hard enough when you’re feeling depressed to ask someone for help, but then they promise to be there and they aren’t. You feel hopeless.”
It cannot be the expectation that when a student is incapable of getting out of bed in the morning they should be responsible for consistently reaching out to the people on campus meant to help them. The failures are not just occurring at a departmental or student level, but are a campus wide problem that needs to be addressed.
The university needs to educate professors on how to handle the needs of students with mental illness, similarly to how professors are legally obligated to accommodate students with disabilities.
Additionally, if a student hasn’t been to class in weeks, they should not be treated like deviants. While some students may skip class out of negligence, every individual case should be treated with the understanding necessary to help those who don’t come to class because they are mentally unable.
The Counseling Center and other programs in place at NDSU need to improve their outreach and follow through. It is one thing to email the entire student body encouraging them to come make zen gardens and another to try to get in contact with students on an individual basis that may be scared to ask for help.
Finally, and this is the big one, students need to try their best to recognize when someone needs help. While few individuals on campus are trained professionals capable of providing the advice needed to those with mental illness, any person is capable of dialing the phone.
Whether it’s a friend, roommate or stranger, calling a mental health hotline for advice is never a bad idea. Reach out to professors for advice on how to help a classmate you’re concerned about. Even if you’ve had issues with the Counseling Center, try to get in contact with them again and see if they can reach out to that student.
Mental illness touches the lives of every person within the NDSU community, therefore it is the responsibility of everyone to do better.