Turn off the pressure cooker

In a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this week, Joy von Steiger, the director of the Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC), described higher education as a “pressure cooker environment” and said that Brandeis culture involves being constantly busy. “You have to have two majors, you have to be president of four clubs,” said von Steiger.

It is common knowledge that higher education institutions are high pressure environments. This trend is consistent with other colleges and universities in the area; both Boston College and Boston University have reported increasing the number of therapist hires. However, it is concerning that the rate at which Brandeis students are seeking help is skyrocketing. The accelerating rate could potentially be attributed to professors’—and students’ own—high expectations for their academic and extracurricular performance. 

Since the previous academic year, the number of students seeking help at the Brandeis Counseling Center has increased by 8.4 percent and the number of total appointments has increased by 47 percent, according to a recent article by The Hoot. The article also reported having 315 students—almost 10 percent of the undergraduate student population—take part in assessments in the last year. While Brandeis is increasing the number of therapists both in and out of the counseling center, the resources provided are not proportional to the number of students who need and would like care. If this trend continues—and it looks like it will—the BCC will need to exponentially increase its resources to be able to match the amount of students who are looking for care. 

The Brandeis Counseling Center currently has 17 staff therapists, two staff psychologists and four community therapists, according to a recent Hoot article, and offers services such as group therapy, comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy, eating disorder treatments and the Resilience, Information, Skills and Experiences (RISE) program. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the BCC also introduced community therapy, a program aimed at reducing barriers to care by having mental health professionals around campus, according to an earlier Hoot article. As recent as 2017, the counseling center faced complaints of long wait times by students, according to a Hoot article published in January 2019.

Besides services offered by clinicians, the BCC and the university have made efforts to relieve stress and promote self-care among the undergraduate student population. Such efforts include placing Legos and board games in the library, a location on campus notorious for being high-strung, and bringing in therapy dogs and emotional support animals. The Sleep Week events that took place this week, hosted by Health and Wellness Promotion (HAWP), were an important reminder that students can do their part to take charge of their health. We recognize the importance of self-care, both physical, mental and emotional, but consider these efforts ineffective in the long-run. While such activities relieve stress, the effects are only temporary and not a true substitute for mental health care. It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole: Fine for a short while but will quickly prove to be ineffective. 

This is all at least partially caused by the fact that students at Brandeis are perpetually stressed and overworked. We believe that the lack of a set midterm schedule takes part in this: starting around mid-September, students are already deep into “midterm season,” a period usually lasting until the second week of December when finals officially begin. The lack of standardization results in students being in a constant state of panic and fatigue. By the time students are given access to therapy dogs and crossword puzzles in the library, they most likely have already gone through a full semester of stress and over-exhaustion. 

In addition, we have noticed that there is an unhealthy competition associating ones’ amount of activity to their amount of success and self-worth. This is reflected in the number of on-campus jobs and club leadership positions students take on in addition to a rigorous course schedule. This may make it difficult to prioritize friendships and other relationships which can often aid in a healthy mental state.

We, The Hoot Editorial Board, believe that the university should prevent these detrimental mental health practices from happening in the first place, as opposed to mitigating the damage after it is done. In order to actually combat the onslaught of mental health problems on campus, the university needs to implement structural change so that students don’t fall into the trap of overworking themselves just to keep up. Students not only need better access to mental health professionals, but also need a more regular schedule that encourages rest and sleep. That being said, students also need to make their health and those of their peers a priority.

Editor’s note: News Editor Celia Young covered the BCC’s increase in student use and rise in the number of students seeking help for anxiety and depression, and did not contribute to the writing and editing of this editorial.

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