Editor’s Note: This article contains reference to suicide.
Three suicides since the beginning of the semester, two in the past month alone. No University should have to deal with such a loss. The environment surrounding UNC-Chapel Hill for the past few weeks has been somber. The entire student body is mourning the loss of three beloved students whose mental health felt so neglected they chose to take their own lives.
It should never come to such a point. The mental health of students should never be so deeply neglected they feel like suicide is the only option.
Kush Shah, a second-year majoring in business and computer science at UNC, described the environment in Chapel Hill as heavy and disheartening.
“It’s like a plague has set on the entire student body,'' Shah said. “People hand out notes now, it’s sad ... but there is a strong sense of community.”
When asked about UNC’s reaction to these suicides, Madison Vuytecki, a second-year majoring in biology at UNC, critiques the university’s lack of action until the third suicide.
“I understand that they are a large public University and may take more time to react to events but I’m also not defending any of this,” Vuytecki said.
Both also explained how the CAPS mental health center has also seen changes. Before these incidents, the wait to get an appointment was roughly three weeks, while now the University is offering special counseling sessions, according to Vuytecki. However, it should not have taken this long for the university to acknowledge this problem.
Even after this issue was brought to light, the university’s response seems inadequate, coming in the form of a lone wellness day. Students were forced to attend class and take exams the next day, as though they had not lost three members of their community. These incidents have triggered a collective feeling of helplessness, sadness, stress and anxiety across the student body. It is the university’s responsibility to be cognizant of this and find ways to offer support.
College is becoming increasingly stressful and difficult for students not just at UNC, but in universities all over the nation. A 2018 Harvard Medical School report on student stress found that one in five college students had expressed thoughts of suicide. College is a span of one’s life where students are expected to make career-changing decisions and with the recent changes brought on by the pandemic — student stress is higher than ever.
Teju Lankipalli, a second-year majoring in fashion textile management at NC State, shares how stressful this semester has been and how professors seem to disregard this.
“My friends and I feel like we can't keep up with the workload and because of this not only is our mental health slipping, but we just don’t have the time to take care of ourselves,” Lankipalli said.
Lankipalli addresses a valid point that students across the country are struggling to adjust to the changes in education brought on by the global pandemic, an opinion both Shah and Vuytecki agree with.
“The pandemic is coming closer to an end that we can see, but in that period of quarantine we were in almost complete social isolation,” Shah said. “Yes, things might be coming back to normal, but now it feels like I’m just scrambling to catch up. I’m learning how to live on my own, manage school and catch up on a social life that I missed out on because of the pandemic.”
When asked what universities can do to support students’ mental health, they all suggested more time and money be invested in mental health resources to make them more efficient and accessible.
“The NCSU Counseling center needs to change; one of my friends couldn’t get a counseling appointment until almost three weeks out. If she had truly needed help it would’ve been too late by then,” Lankipalli said.
Professors also need to be more mindful and understanding with students, as a little bit of compassion can go a long way.
Your mental health matters. If you are struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression, please take advantage of your university’s counseling services. There are a number of resources available at NC State alone, but you can also reach out to third-party services if you prefer to do so. But at the end of the day, the biggest changes can be brought about by the University itself.
NC State must take action to support the mental health of their students. Ease up the course loads, offer more counseling sessions and invest more time and resources into this issue before it is too late. Acknowledge the struggles of your students and make us feel seen and heard. Students need your support now more than ever.