In “Where Have All the Neurotics Gone?” a Sunday opinion article from The New York Times, Edward Shorter, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown – And How Everyone Became Depressed,” stated during a discussion on the effects psychiatric conditions have on the body: “They feel it in their body; they’re fatigued, they have these somatic aches and pains, the pit in the stomach – it’s experienced in the whole body.” Sick days for the mental health community, to be used when suffering from those physical symptoms, seems an obvious accommodation colleges and universities should provide for students.
Each course on this campus has an allotment of sick days, a policy almost sacred to the student, through which those with medical reasons for missing class are allowed the right to heal before being put to the academic tests of collegiate life. Yet, a student with a mental health condition, who wakes up in pain, physically ill and disabled, has little way of avoiding those traps of intellectual measures.
Before I go any further, I must say, I am not claiming a sick day can heal a mind. What I am saying is that when a mind has left an effect on a body, not allowing the body time to heal – the relaxation response in stress analysis – only furthers these ills.
Mental Health America, one of the nation’s foremost mental health advocates, states depression creates the physical symptoms like chronic pains (that don’t respond to treatment), digestive disorders – stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation – fatigue and loss of energy, which in part lead to difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions. These physical effects also hold true for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. Those living with post-traumatic stress disorder, including many returning veterans, face a combination of these symptoms as well. Each case is different, and many mental health patients also experience headaches, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps and lower back pain.
Given the staggering barriers to equal footing, it is easy to see the need for addressing these physical illnesses, regardless of their origin.
In some cases, the need for excused absences is provided.
“(The office) works with students who have mental health conditions by advocating for them as appropriate when their disabilities impact classroom attendance,” said Lois J. Harris, director of the Office for Disability Services. “This is done on an individualized basis since the needs of the students and the requirements of the class, especially as it relates to attendance, can vary greatly.”
To ingrain these services into the collegiate culture, which could greatly increase access to and awareness of this service among students – who might remain unregistered due to the fear of societal stigma – would require distinguishing between healthy and in-need students, under very complicated medical scenarios. Constructing universal registration and pre-approval guidelines would be a daunting task in and of itself, to say nothing of deciding how these days could be used, how many could be used each academic term and what would qualify for sick-day coverage.
Yet if were we to go through the trouble of establishing this generalized right, I hope to think it’s benefits to the student body would far outweigh its challenges to our university administrators.