As the semester ends, more work means more stress. Photo: Cailey Fletcher.
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Reducing stress from assignments could improve students’ mental health

The University of Ottawa’s approach to mental health has its problems, one being that it is reactive instead of preventative. Despite the various resources and workshops available, the root of the problem persists because nothing is being done to handle a cause and effect relationship that many university students can confirmthe relationship between stress from school and overall mental health.

Mental health issues such as anxiety can be triggered or exacerbated by stress. Our education system and the stress it places on students is at least partially to blame for mental health issues across postsecondary campuses.

On the front lines of crippling stress are first-year students, and not just because they are new to university life. First-year students often have a difficult adjustment period to university, along with heavy course loads, and are forced to follow the recommended course sequence to avoid falling behind.

The severity of university academic regulations allows for little room for error. Mistaking the date of a midterm or oversleeping and missing a final can happen to even the best of students. In that case, the only solution is to try and obtain a medical note or drop the class entirely.

The latter is especially problematic when it’s a prerequisite for other classes. The issue becomes worse when the class is only offered during a single semester, and repeating the class would require waiting until the following year and pushing back all other classes that require it as a prerequisite.

That being said, it’s not necessarily the case that the whole system needs to be thrown out. There are minor and manageable steps that can be taken to alleviate the stress that so often leads to student anxiety and panic.

One option is the creation of a “free pass:” an exemption from one missed midterm, final, or assignment instead of a medical note. Students would have the peace of mind knowing that if for whatever reason they aren’t able to complete an assessment, there is still room for redemption.

An example of this is the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF). Students at McMaster University have the option of submitting an online form which exempts them from assessments worth less than 25 per cent within a three-day period of when it is submitted. The form consists of the student’s reason of absence, and students can submit one MSAF per semester.

Another suggestion would be to lessen the load on students, particularly first-year students, simply by making classes available during both semesters or increasing the number of courses offered during the summer, and allowing them to better distribute their course loads with electives. Students will often say that course load becomes less stressful and more manageable after first year, suggesting that learning without excessive stress is an absolute possibility.

In addition to focusing on treatment, let’s examine what we can do to address the causes of some of these issues. In the long run it’s the smarter and safer plan.