Editorial: Vacation time crucial to students’ mental health and happiness

As we enter another long week of classes, it is imperative that we all take a collective deep breath. Five weeks have passed since the start of the semester and hope is on the horizon. Fall break officially begins on Monday, Oct. 10, but it is preceded by this coming weekend, giving us all a modest four days to rest. Not enough, some may argue, but it is something.

The need to destress is one of utmost importance for college students. Juggling classes, work, social lives and miscellaneous stressors on a day-to-day basis is tough work. Not everyone can successfully manage it all. Mental illness only further aggravates stress and burnout, making the week by week march through school that much harder on students.

Sometimes, nothing seems to help and everything feels hopeless – and that is when we lose classmates and friends. Occurrences of suicide among college students are reported to be rising each year. The rates may not be exponential, but they are an ominous reminder that expectations are not always realistic and we could be doing more.  

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the overall suicide rate per 100,000 individuals shows Maine consistently ranks higher than the U.S. average, from 2007 onward. The American Association of Suicidology reported statistics in 2014 for age-specific suicide rates. Among those aged 15 to 24, which covers a large part of college undergraduates, rates of suicide were as high as 34.9 per 100,000. Many states varied from around 12 to 20.

These numbers in themselves are not as alarming as other ratios at face value. What they reveal though is a systemic problem regarding mental health, offering assistance for those who need it and ensuring students are given reasonable expectations. Trudging through college-level classes with scant time to take a breather is deadly. A few days, including obligatory weekend time off, is a meager offering.

This break does not guarantee students will escape homework and projects that need attending, even while they should be taking time to destress. With a 15-week semester and inevitable delays in course curriculum, it can seem necessary to assign work over holidays. It seems better than cramming it in when students return.

This may do more harm than good. A break should be just that. Most of us may have heard the phrase “don’t take work home with you.” Likewise, professors should try to minimize the textbooks and research essays that college students need to complete over holidays.

In combating potentially lethal stress and depression, we should consider some proven strategies for reducing risk of harm. Healthy social interactions can extend a safety net to students at risk. Having enough time to reach out to family and friends opens up communication and allows students to vent. Taking time off from school — even temporarily — allows students to look away from their academia for a while and pursue other interests.

Spending time for only yourself is a great practice in alleviating stress. This cannot be done when one class assigns the final draft of an essay and two more require homework completed for the first day back from break.

The timing of our October fall break is nearly perfect. Six weeks is a sizable chunk of the overall semester and it is nice to symbolically put it behind us at the end of the break. It offers a little time to regroup and tackle the rest of the semester — at least until Thanksgiving break. For those students who are seriously struggling to stay afloat, it may be the difference between managing another semester or finding themselves considering the unthinkable.

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