It’s no secret that mental health issues scourge college campuses.
One in every 12 college students makes a suicide plan, 49.5 percent reported feeling hopeless in the past year and 60.5 percent said they experienced loneliness. In addition, a 2013 American Psychological Association survey found that 41.6 percent of college students listed anxiety as their biggest concern, followed by depression, with 36.4 percent.
Penn struggles with mental health too. It can be very difficult for students seeking help to utilize on-campus resources like Counseling and Psychological Services; there are usually long waiting times for appointments unless one describes their own situation as an emergency. Furthermore, 14 Penn students have died by suicide since February of 2013.
I was startled after coming across this information during late-night Google searches I conducted in anticipation of my freshman year.
How are freshmen supposed to make sense of all the tragedy that has struck Penn? And how can they ensure that they will be immune to the mental health issues that plague its campus? They can make plans to implement exercise regimens and set aside time for relaxation, but juggling club responsibilities with rigorous coursework and forming new relationships is stressful, and often, students are more willing to fail themselves than their friends or classes.
Penn should not fail us too.
It is important that the University takes steps to ease the transition for freshmen. By allocating more attention and implementing new policies towards mental health resources, Penn can alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with living away from home for the first time and adjusting to a new community.
During freshmen year of college, students are at their most vulnerable. They are away from home for the first time in a daunting environment where there is intense pressure to instantly make friends, ace midterms and figure out smaller things like doing their own laundry. Simultaneously, they must confront navigating an unfamiliar place and the beginning of adulthood.
I expected these struggles to be addressed in some form during my New Student Orientation at Penn, but they were largely ignored. I remember sitting through countless mandatory events on binge drinking and sexual assault between strangers whom I’d made small-talk with, feeling very alone. Had one of the speakers at these panels acknowledged some of the difficulties of being a first-year college student or said something to normalize loneliness, NSO would have been much more effective.
But I felt as though there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t having the time of my life during my first week of college. I also felt behind. It seemed to me that everyone had already declared their majors, while I didn’t even know where my first class was.
There is so much that the administration could do to make things better for freshmen. Simply acknowledging that the first semester of freshman year is a challenging time would be a good start. But the University should also work to make it so freshmen feel as though they have a support system on campus.
The mental health resources at Penn are sparse and it is a large school that can feel cold and overwhelming. While improving CAPS would be ideal, the administration could also work to implement policies that strengthen the relationships freshmen have with their resident, peer and academic advisors so they actually become figures students can lean on for emotional support.
In light of the four deaths of Penn students Nicholas Moya, Justin Hamano, Henry Rogers and Brett Cooper this semester, as well as pressing off-campus events like the recent natural disasters and the Las Vegas mass shooting, Penn’s administration has arranged a “Campus Conversation” and an open CAPS forum.
Regardless of the effectiveness of these discussions, it is encouraging that the University is taking initiative to combat some of the issues Penn is facing. My hope is that similar attention can be paid to the Class of 2022’s transition to Penn so that freshmen know feeling lonely and anxious is normal.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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