It’s Time We Back Up Mental Health Awareness with Action

By Pete Janny, Senior Writer

Starting out the spring semester online is disappointing, but hopefully temporary as expected. And if this strategy ensures that everybody at Manhattan College has a fair shot at having a successful semester, then so be this first week of online classes. 

Hopefully one day we’ll look back and share some laughs about how professors couldn’t navigate google meet or zoom for the life of them — and the sooner the better.

For right now, I understand and respect the college’s efforts to keep all of us safe. Testing, maybe even more than vaccines, is an effective way to limit the chances of there being outbreaks. Again, whatever promises to be the safest and healthiest option for students I’m all for. 

However, there’s another invisible threat out there that transcends physical health. It deals with a lack of care and attention to address a different pandemic: mental health.

In the college’s email to students on Jan. 14,  there was not a single mention of how students can seek mental health services while being away from the physical classroom. The lack of mobilization to make these services available poses a bigger threat to the mental wellness of our community than anything else. 

The coronavirus has already dealt a series of blows to the average person’s mental health, but that shouldn’t prevent us from trying to make up for lost time. If anything, the difficulties of the last two years should inspire us to take advantage of the increased mental health awareness and back it up with meaningful action.

That could mean getting creative with our counseling center at the college to provide a direct line of access for students who would benefit from different cognitive behavioral and mindfulness techniques. And I would request that graduate students get the same priority as undergraduates, so that no part of our community gets left behind during these challenging times. I would also vouch for offering extra support to student-athletes who have to deal with the nonstop grind of taking classes and then going to practice with little time to see family in between.

Tackling the challenges of mental health has important long-term and short-term stakes. For too long a societal pendulum has shifted between dealing with the stress of an ever-changing learning environment and fretting over potential long-term psychological effects from the pandemic. Students deserve clarity on what our future looks like. 

I try reminding myself often that as tough as we may have it, students in high school, middle school, and elementary school are trying to weather the storm of mental health challenges even earlier in their developmental years. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of Jan. 13, 2022 children have accounted for anywhere between 0 to .26 percent of coronavirus-related deaths. Conversely, according to a 2021 study from the University of California Davis, suicide is the second most common cause of death for people aged 10 to 24; most of whom suffer from a variety of mental health disorders.

Are students supposed to believe that all is good in the world when their friends and classmates are taking their own lives at staggering rates? Before asking someone of their vaccination status, more importantly ask them how they’re feeling in general. That basic question could make a profound difference for someone struggling inside. 

Over these last two years, I’ve often thought about the students from Beardsley Elementary School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was fortunate enough to spend some of my high school service hours at Beardsley bonding with what are mostly minority students at the school. Bridgeport is a place that has been plagued by crime and poverty for several decades running, and here was a kind and loving community at Beardsley that embraced me with open arms. The part I loved the most was that the students came ready to learn every day seemingly unconcerned with the problems going on in their city. 

What Beardsley taught me was the importance of resilience even on our worst days. We have lived and learned from the consequences of not prioritizing mental health and my hope is that Manhattan College will soon take action at this critical moment.