From the Oracle to Our Community: Dear Students, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Are you struggling right now?

It’s okay. We are, too.

When we sat down to discuss this week’s issue, the staff of the Oracle knew we wanted to write about mental health, especially at this point in the semester. As we went around the room discussing ideas, we realized that everyone was going through something difficult. Failing midterms, relationship struggles, mental health, serious burnout, loved ones in the hospital, time management issues, substance abuse and every problem in between was happening in the lives of our staff. 

As a college community, things are rough right now. We have hit the point in the semester where nothing seems to go right and with this being the first semester we are almost completely back in person, there is an added layer of stress. Whether you are struggling mentally, academically, physically or with something else, we see you.

When it comes to academics, we are all feeling the pressure after midterms. For one, many students haven’t taken an in-person test in two years and yet are now expected to return to the old norms of class expectations and test-taking. Due to health risks, going to in-person classes can be mentally draining and physically dangerous. We are still in a pandemic. We are now expected to shoulder the tedious workload we were getting before COVID, on top of dealing with these new COVID-related stressors.

There seems to be one adjective that stands out to students when describing this past semester: burnout. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. We feel as if we are racing against the clock. 

Additionally, many of us want to skip class more than ever. Some attest we’ve fallen out of the habit of regularly attending in-person classes. Being alone in a dorm room — especially for first-time students — can be isolating, and it can drain motivation. It is easy to skip class when you feel as if going will just make it worse. 

Taking time off is not a cop-out. It takes time to complete work and assignments, but it also takes time to process emotions, to process stress and to decompress. If you need a day off to survive the rest of them, you deserve to take it. Attendance policies are often unrealistic and unethical. Students are not machines that can perform perfectly and research shows people tend to perform best when given the opportunity to take breaks.

We implore you to keep open communication with professors and to try your hardest to not be so hard on yourself. Before you are a student, you are a person. 

We are also entering the time period where people with seasonal depression, clinically called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), are experiencing symptoms. According to USA Today, 5 to 13% of college students struggle with SAD, and it’s most common in Northeastern areas, like New Paltz. The times when school work becomes heavier and midterms pile on top of each other are also the times when people with SAD most commonly struggle. 

Alongside people with SAD, students with other mental illnesses are finding themselves struggling too. The suicide and depression rates for college students are staggering. Students who are not diagnosed, or do not have mental illnesses, are struggling too. 

We, as a community, also have a high rate of substance abuse and struggles. Binge drinking is described as at least four to five drinks in one period and it’s a common way to cope or to “make up for time lost because of COVID.” According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in four college students experiences academic problems due to drinking  and 33% engaged in binge drinking within each month. 

Mental health affects everyone. Your feelings are valid. Your mental health is as important as your physical health. It deserves the same amount of care, compassion and attention that a phsysical illness would receive. 

When we are caught up in the moment, we often feel alone. We feel like we are the only ones struggling. Comparing yourself to others is a trap we all get stuck in. When we are not doing well, we often take it as a personal failure. It also seems impossible to find anything that makes it better.

So, where do we go from here? What actually helps? We, as a staff, compiled a list of what we do individually to feel better when things are hard. We know a newspaper article cannot treat depression and we know we are not aware of your individual story. We do not have perfect answers, but we hope that seeing these words in print and knowing that at least one of us can relate to one of you in some way, might help you, our dear reader, feel less alone.

One Oracle writer says that finding people who put you back in your orbit helps. Do not be afraid to reach out to friends, family or roommates. Talking about your feelings can do wonders. Putting the same amount of love and work into yourself as you would put onto others is essential to getting through life. Another writer mentions that the little things, like wearing your favorite pajamas to class or treating yourself to coffee, helps them to feel better in hard times.

Our managing editor, Ethan Eisenberg, teaches a yoga class at the AWC free to all students that we highly recommend attending to ground yourself and relax.

One writer said that taking the time to go to the gym to work out and feel stronger and better physically helps.

 If you need support on a professional level, do not be afraid to pursue it. There are resources of different levels available to you. You are not alone. 

Do us a favor before you stop reading. We want you, dear reader, to forgive yourself. You are not a failure for struggling. You are not a failure for not getting better. You are not a failure for anything. Things will improve. Try to forgive yourself if you’ve been feeling ashamed of yourself for how you are feeling and how you are handling it. You are trying your best. You deserve the help you need to get better, as well as the time and space you need to heal. We are here. We see you. We are so proud of you. 

We want to draw attention to some of the free help and support available to you. The student health center and counseling center are right here on campus. New Paltz students are eligible for up to 8 free sessions per academic year at the counseling center, and can schedule an appointment by calling (845)257-2920. Students experiencing an emotional crisis or just in need of someone to talk to can call the OASIS/HAVEN campus hotline from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at (845) 257-4945. There’s also a free national suicide prevention lifeline that can be reached at (800)273-8255. Additionally, we have a trained therapy dog on campus named Anna who is available to all students. Anna can be found in HAB 701 and on her Instagram @one_brown_eye. There is also the New York State/Office of Mental Health Crisis Text Line, where you can text GOT5 to 741741, for help. We also encourage you to use resources like Psychology Today if you need off-campus, long-term help.

It’s okay to not be okay. But there are ways it gets better.