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Students can't effectively apply themselves in classes if they're not in the right mindset.

The concept of taking a mental health day may have seemed unneeded in the past. It may have even felt lazy. However, after almost two years  of COVID-19, individuals have gone through the wringer to try to keep themselves together. It hasn’t been easy for anyone. 

Mental health is just as important as physical health. If someone was physically sick, they wouldn’t force themselves to go to school or work. So, what’s the difference if someone is mentally struggling? There isn’t one, other than the fact that one can be visible. 

Ryan Parkhurst, media arts and design (SMAD) professor at JMU, voiced his feelings on the matter. 

“I think it’s important that we all understand that it’s OK to not be alright sometimes,” he said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I just can’t do it today.’” 

While the idea of saying “I can’t” may seem scary for some people, saying those words is one step in the right direction. 

It can feel difficult to even begin to acknowledge a struggle. With the idea of school always being the No. 1 priority, pushing a class to the backburner can feel unfamiliar. However, if taking a few days to recollect mentally is going to ultimately help, it’s something that must be done. Mental health should always come before class or a job. If you’re unable to be 100% there, it’s hard to get anything out of it. 

“We have this stigmatization of mental health issues in this country where it’s kind of like a dirty word,” Parkhurst said, “like it needs to be kept a secret.”

The significance this statement holds is overwhelming. It can make people feel worse about themselves when they admit they have a mental illness. They don’t want to feel weak or be pitied. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated one in four adults has a diagnosable mental illness.

In an article by the American Psychological Association, Bernice Pescosolido, a stigma researcher at Indiana University, stated, “[There’s] about 76 million Americans who live with the fear that others may find out about their disorder and think less of them or even keep them from getting jobs or promotions.” While not only struggling with their disorder, individuals also have to struggle with the fear that they may not succeed in what they want to do because of it. This cycle is heartbreaking and defeating. 

For Parkhurst, COVID-19 changed the way he views his job.

“I need to make sure that students get a good journalism education,” he said, “but I need to be aware of the whole person, not just the student part.”

The truth is, students aren’t just students. They’re people with lives that oftentimes have complications and struggles. It’s unfair to let a 50-minute class period decide someone’s worth and value. If a student feels they can’t perform to the best of their ability, it’s not worth showing up to class. 

“By making you better, it will make your education better,” Parkhurst said.

Margaret Willcox is a media, arts, and design major. Contact Margaret at willcomr@dukes.jmu.edu.