In whispers and murmurs heard across hallways, at sit-downs, through the paper-thin walls which separate your room from the one next door — as in a confusing, cross-campus game of telephone — there exists the rumor of the “Mental Health Day,” one time when a student can go into the Health Center and take the day off, no questions asked.
The Mental Health Day is Deerfield’s El Dorado. Some students insist that it is real, and that all one has to do is ask for one. Others swear up and down that they aren’t — that they walked into the Health Center one sad day, asked for a Mental Health Day, and were turned away. Still others maintain that one can finagle their way into getting the day off, given sufficient planning.
In reality, according to Director of Nursing Kate Rolland, the Health Center does not offer what many students and faculty have referred to as “Mental Health Days,” but students can still seek admission to the Health Center if they feel too stressed out to go to class.
The Health Center policies concerning mental health need to be well-defined and clearly communicated to all students and faculty from the beginning of each new school year. Hearing that Mental Health days “don’t exist” from a peer, faculty member, or even one of the nurses, is disheartening and can result in students feeling left to struggle alone or attend classes when they really need rest, due to a general lack of understanding of the Health Center’s accomodations in that realm. This miscommunication can be especially detrimental in a time with many people still dealing with the effects of the pandemic.
“Sometimes the problem with the ‘Mental Health Day’ wording is that people come in thinking it’s a blanket freedom,” Ms. Rolland said. “They’ll say, ‘I need a Mental Health Day, and I’m not going to talk to you about anything… It just doesn’t work like that. We want to help, and we want this to be the safe place where people can come.”
Ms. Rolland explained that when students come into the Health Center, they need to be open to having an honest conversation in order for the nurses to determine how to best help them. If the student feels unable to talk to a nurse, they can meet later with the on-call counselor.
But there is often more nuance to Health Center experiences. Different students have varying comfort levels going to the Health Center when sick as well as being honest and open about their struggles with mental health, and the decision to admit someone to the Health Center versus turning them away is ultimately left up to the discretion of each individual nurse. Similar to our dorm residents, the nurses must act “in loco parentis,” with the main goal being to get students healthy enough again to attend classes and other obligations. Yet nurses must also consider capacity limits and your story in context with the numerous other sick students that paid them a visit.
We acknowledge that the Health Center is not to blame for much of the miscommunication that occurs on campus, and that, through word-of-mouth, truth can be quickly transformed into a myth. We want to thank the nurses, counselors, and other staff members for their dedication to providing support for many struggling students in their home away from home. Greater transparency and more frequent reminders around the mental health resources offered here is all we ask for.
In future years, we should incorporate a thorough and comprehensive review of Health Center policies into the orientations at the beginning of every school year, particularly those policies surrounding mental health. We already have annual orientations covering academic policies and even the ins and outs of the gym facilities, but there needs to be better communication to clearly inform both the faculty and student body what support is out there, and how to go about requesting that support. Deerfield students would undoubtedly benefit from gaining this more in-depth understanding of the Health Center policies and resources.