Considering that this past week has been devoted to mental health awareness, you’ve probably realized that mental health is a significant problem at IMSA. So significant, in fact, that students are allowed to skip classes due to mental health issues.
This goes beyond excusing students from class to go to off-campus counseling or the like. Students can skip any classes on any given day, due to a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issue. This is called a stress mod – when students are so stressed that they have to skip class, because they need the time to do homework and alleviate their stress.
However, the question lies in whether these should truly be allowed.
Upon coming to IMSA, students are immediately made aware of the risks to their mental health – through the sophomore welcome sessions, various wing programs, upperclassman advice, and Student Council’s annual Mental Health Initiative Week. It’s safe to assume that nearly all students are very aware of the dangers to their mental health.
Given this, shouldn’t students be capable of reaching out and getting help before it comes to skipping a class? Wouldn’t skipping a class, and missing the material taught in that class, only increase a student’s stress? Athena Zheng (‘20) commented, “It’s good that [stress mods] are a thing, but I wouldn’t want to skip class just because I feel too stressed… I wouldn’t want to miss out on [class] material and stuff.” If students are feeling stressed, they should skip lower-priority club meetings or sports practices before it comes to skipping classes.
Now, of course, mental health issues are legitimate medical concerns that should be addressed immediately. And for those cases, stress mods should definitely be allowed. A student’s health should always come before their academics. Taking a mod off would allow a student to seek help from IMSA’s counselors or the school nurse.
For example, junior Maahum Hamayat (’20), who has taken two stress mods so far, said, “I was very overwhelmed…but I took off Movement and Relaxation to talk to my counselor about my stress, and to study for my math test. So yes, [taking a stress mod] definitely helped.”
But the problem with stress mods is that they’re easy to abuse. Stress mods are theoretically used only if students are feeling unusually stressed or have a mental health disorder. But this all depends on how you define “unusually stressed.” When it comes to diagnosing mental health issues, everything is very subjective. What is the difference between normal stress and chronic anxiety, or between sadness and clinical depression? Can we trust students to tell the difference for themselves? How do we know if someone is pretending to have a mental health issue as an excuse to skip class?
One anonymous junior stated, “I think as an idea, stress mods are great. They allow students to recuperate…and catch their breath when they really need it. Unfortunately, from what I’ve heard, certain staff members discourage it, and it’s not entirely unfounded. [Stress mods] are a system that’s easy for students to abuse. In an ideal world, students would only use stress mods when they really need to, but obviously, that’s not the case.”
One final problem with stress mods is their actual efficacy. Stress mods are theoretically supposed to allow a student to relax and destress for a bit, but can 55 minutes make that much of a difference? One anonymous senior stated, “[I took stress mods] due to feeling stressed, and also [experiencing] sad and depressed feelings.” When asked if the stress mods helped, the senior responded, “Not really. The stress doesn’t go away. It’s still there, like an umbrella.”
Stress mods have their advantages when used properly and disadvantages when used improperly, and this issue is complicated because the definition of using stress mods “properly” is extremely subjective. There is probably no final resolution to the issue of mental health at IMSA.
But a primary theme of Mental Health Initiative Week is that students should reach out and seek help when they think they have a mental health issue – or even when they don’t have a medical problem and are just feeling stressed. As Annie Xu (‘19) wrote in a Facebook post to the IMSA community in honor of Mental Health Initiative Week, “IMSA can get really hard… When it gets to be too much, I really encourage you all to reach out and talk to people.” And, ideally, students will reach out and get help before their mental health issue escalates to the point where they must miss class because of it.