In an attempt to justify McGill University’s lack of a Fall Reading Week, Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning, Ollivier Dyens, recently suggested in an interview that students need to take complete charge of their own mental health: “It’s just good ‘hygiene de vie’ (life hygiene); I think students know that. Eating well, sleeping well, being physically active, not cramming a week before the exam and spending the whole night cramming. Having good time-management skills. Not using any performance-enhancing drugs (like Ritalin), coffee and cigarettes” .
There are several issues with this statement (even beyond the suggestion that caffeine is a performance-enhancing drug). What Dyens doesn’t understand is that it is unreasonable to expect students to perfectly manage their own stress–university is incredibly demanding, and takes place at a particularly tumultuous time in students’ lives, which is why Reading Week is helpful. It’s no coincidence that most schools in Canada, including McMaster, have some form of an extended break in the middle of the semester. Numerous studies have proven that breaks from school are beneficial to students’ mental health and performance .
Mental health problems at university are very common. According to a national survey of colleges and universities, “A fifth of Canadian postsecondary students are depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues.” More and more students are also reporting having thoughts of suicide . The stresses of maintaining grades, staying involved in extracurriculars, keeping a job, and living alone inevitably add up. It’s difficult to sustain a healthy lifestyle, especially when one is getting inadequate sleep (a common occurrence for university students), which reduces our capacity to deal with emotions, increasing anxiety. Moreover, it doesn’t help that finding a support system to deal with mental health issues can be tough — in a sea of students, it is very easy to feel lost.
That’s why Reading Week is so important. It gives us a chance to catch up on lost sleep, finish work, and reconnect with friends and family. There is a misconception that time off from work is “unproductive,” but maybe that’s because we are all so wired up day to day, and have really limited perception of what constitutes a “worthwhile” activity. Time spent doing nothing is still constructive, because it allows for self-care. In turn, this makes us more capable of being our best selves, in all other aspects of life.
Ultimately, students are not machines; there is a limit to how much we can push ourselves. Without a chance to recuperate, we cannot expect ourselves to perform well. And despite what Dyens says, “hygiene de vie” simply won’t change this.
Written by PARNIKA GODKHINDI / Image source