At one in the morning, I stared at the pencil shavings sitting on my desk. The cursor blinked expectantly over my English essay, shaming me for the third straight hour and turning my brain to mush. This lull, which my friends and I branded the “Twelve A.M. Break,” is the toughest trial period to test the willpower of any procrastinating student.
Usually, this was around the time I read or sent texts containing the makings of a mental breakdown. This situation is a result of my and others’ own failure to plan. However, the panic attacks and self-hatred that control these early morning hours sometimes define students’ daily lives.
When things become too tense, students often disappear due to mysterious “illness,” conveniently missing an important exam or presentation. Every student has stood teary-eyed in the attendance office, slipping away before eighth period. These breaks are often stigmatized by other students, earning the “slip-away” student taunts upon return. However, for students suffering from mental illness, these days make all the difference.
When a student comes back from an absence with a stuffy nose and a cough, they are warmly welcomed by comforting words and sympathetic looks. However, the teasing and awkward silences following the return of a physically healthy student belittle the possible internal challenges he or she has faced.
In short, missing a school day to take care of mental health is just as important as missing a day to take care of physical health. No two students have the same immune system, and as a result, no two students may be expected to adhere to the same mental health expectations. Because every student on our campus is unique, an increased understanding can encourage a healthy change in the atmosphere on our campus away from mute condemnation and towards open discussion.
While some may believe that taking a mental health day is merely an excuse to avoid work, often these days are a last desperate resort. Taking a break allows students to reset perspective and allow the mind and body a well-deserved rest. Additionally, taking a break during the bleakest of weekdays allows risk management to take place. To avoid performing badly on several exams, presentations, or projects, taking a break would allow a mental recharge and enable a student to perform at maximum capacity (preventing the repeat of a vicious cycle that may be triggered by more low grades.)
Consequences still lie in wait upon return, unfinished work often doubling, or tripling, in the student’s absence. As a result, these breaks will not be taken on a whim.
The build-up of stress, anxiety, or depressive symptoms can clearly affect performance; embracing such a tradition as mental health days would boost student growth and cooperation. The fostering community so embraced by Harvard-Westlake would be encouraged, forming a more welcoming and open rapport between students, faculty and learning.