ETTRICK, Va. -- On a sunny fall day, the normally bustling sidewalks at Virginia State University were mostly empty as a few students took a free yoga class on a lawn outside the student center. Those students were free to take the class because academic classes were canceled Tuesday, part of a somewhat last-minute “Trojan Wellness Day” on campus.
VSU leaders said the day was to address COVID-19 mental fatigue and to mitigate increased loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression that is in part due to the pandemic.
“COVID fatigue is a real phenomenon. It’s taking us twice as long to do basic functions. So, the pandemic has intensified the stress college students typically experience,” said Dr. Cynthia Ellison, VSU Executive Director of Health and Wellness.
“Especially being a student here at an HBCU, often times mental health goes unaddressed, and at Virginia State, we take mental health very seriously, as well as the pandemic. So, we know the need for a mental health day,” said Kameron Gray, VSU Student Government President.
The idea came about just last week after Gray and other students brought their concerns to school administrators. School leaders worked quickly to identify Tuesday and make the announcement.
“I started my morning with mediation,” Gray said. “We’ve seen that there is the need for a mental health day to give them a time to reboot, recharge, and reconnect with society.”
Free yoga classes, massage sessions and muscle relaxation practices were offered to students who wanted to participate. Faculty and staff were also given a light day to either take off completely or dress down and reconnect with colleagues.
Dr. Ellison said the idea for a campus-wide mental health day fit with another trend they had seen lately.
“Our students are very stressed out. We’ve had more students go the hospital [for mental health concerns] at this point in the term, and where a typical stay is three to five days, now we’re seeing somewhere between eight to 10 days of hospitalization,” Dr. Ellison said. “If you are not mentally well, then every aspect about you is unwell.”
VSU leaders said they are already planning on incorporating a Trojan Wellness Day into the calendar during upcoming semesters. While the day off only impacted the community on campus, the idea of self-care and taking a moment to just breathe extends beyond the Trojan community.
“It’s funny because pain reinforces memory, so we tend to remember the negative. But, we need to be intentional in focusing on our own well being what’s going great at the moment.” Dr. Ellison said. “Wellness is not seasonal. It’s always in vogue.”
“We need to start advocating for our mental health, as well as our neighbor’s mental health. Because if your neighbor is not doing good, then you’re not doing good,” Gray said.