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How North Carolina State and Other Universities Can Properly Address Student Mental Health Crises

North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, has seen four students commit suicide this past school year. On Friday, November 11, 2022, word got around campus that the fourth student had killed himself in their residence hall the day after the university-wide "Mental Health Day." The day off from classes and school-organized events, so-called Wellness Day, was held on Thursday, November 10, 2022, after the backlash the university received from students and families about the extensive pressures of school being detrimental to students' mental health. I'm a college student at North Carolina State University and have seen first-hand the stresses of college and the effects of those pressures on fellow students.

These unfortunate events don't only happen at North Carolina State University; they happen at universities all over the United States as this is one of the leading causes of death amongst college students. Vulnerable groups include students with financial problems, lower grades, or students who identify as disabled or LGBTQ+. Approximately 1,100 students per year across a college campus in the US commit suicide, and this number is growing with the ever-increasing pressures of academics that university life brings. I, like many other students, know someone who has committed suicide. 25% of students know someone who has died due to suicide.

North Carolina State University students, including myself, believe that Wellness Day was not enough to combat the ever-growing student mental health crisis. While the university and others like it offer resources on campus to help students, like counseling centers, support groups, etc., I believe the problem of suicide, depression, and anxiety among students is an internal problem of the university and its system and the nearly impossible expectations it places on their students.

Would changing the system and increasing the value of student’s mental health help to combat these unfortunate events?

I believe so.

I feel more days off, or longer breaks from school and class could benefit students' well-being. I also think cheaper tuition, housing, and school materials affect students' mental health. College is costly, and many young adults struggle financially to meet their monetary needs. Along with busy schedules, deadlines, and finances, college is academically challenging and, in most situations, unnecessarily complicated. These factors are detrimental to students' well-being.

As someone who has suffered from prior mental health conditions, I needed the most support while in college. Long classes, day after day, with extremely short breaks (outside of Christmas break after first semester exams), would leave me highly burnt out by the end of the semester and struggling with my well-being. I would then feel bad for being so burned out since I'm paying so much money, money neither my family nor I had, to get a degree that doesn't guarantee me a job. The dread of going to class, the weight of my debt, and the unrealistic expectations of some of my professors had all taken their toll.

One mental health day couldn’t save me. While mental health days show some acknowledgement to the psychological concerns that students face, these aren't enough to lower the alarming suicide statistics. One day off in the entire school year isn’t going to help students who are hurting and feel that they’d be better off dead than to proceed with the mundane lives the university system gives students. After the particular mental health day, students go back to stressing about exams, assignments, and presentations. We shouldn't need a day off if students are given more breaks and rest periods throughout the academic year to recoup and regenerate.

Students go through a significant change in the transition from high school to college. Many students move out of their parent's house, begin to live with someone they barely know, have to navigate getting around campus, and worry about their financial situation.

Where am I going to live? How am I going to afford it? Will I be paying for transportation? What about if I'm going somewhere out of state?

I haven't even begun to mention how much tuition, textbooks, meal plans, and electronics cost. Financial issues are among the major stressors for students in college. Universities should not be as expensive as they are, given that it takes adults an average of 21 years to pay off their student debt.

Colleges' complex tests, an extensive amount of homework, and the lower grades I was making compared to my high school days hurt me. My high school's academics underprepared me for the expectations of college. My high school prepared me well for what I would have expected, but I did not expect the academic rigor placed on me in college. 87% of students interviewed for this study said college classes were much harder than they should have been.

The argument can be made that good grades come with more studying, but when we factor in classes throughout the day, traveling to and from classes, doing homework in between, and still managing to squeeze in meals and sleep somewhere in there, downtime to interact with friends and family, pursue a hobby, or enjoy a blissful, peaceful moment takes the backseat.

In conclusion, universities need to change, and soon before more students end their lives before they even have a chance to live. North Carolina State University isn't the only university with this ever-growing student mental health concern. Just earlier this year, three suicides took place on the University of Wisconsin, Madison campus, spanning from March 2022 to May 2022, adding to the growing suicide statistic. Mental health resources on college campuses aren't enough to combat this problem. Internal changes in universities' systems and how they're run and funded need to change. Professors need to change their expectations, and more grace is required for genuinely struggling students.

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