Mental health or good grades? Students are divided over doing their best while feeling their best

In the early months of 2020, the world begins to bend to the novel coronavirus. A catalyst of a new normal appears with masks across faces in public places, distance divides close visits with friends and dining room tables serve as new offices. In a pandemic ridden world, everything has the capability to change, including one’s mental health.

Katey Angelo is a senior in the College of Business. She has depression and social anxiety, something she says that when she first started to acknowledge, it was “extremely hard” to balance with school work. Her mental health struggles impact her motivation.

Angelos says it has been years trying to improve the balancing act between work and mental health, but with the fall semester approaching, she is left with plenty of uncertainty as Marquette University plans to have in-person session during a pandemic

“It feels like Marquette might penalize me for wanting to be safe, so I am definitely struggling with how I will balance my mental and physical health while still trying to get good grades, ” Angelo says.

Angelo says she envisions a compromising situation in which professors being strict about attendance policies, like some have been known to do in the past, end up peripherally punishing students for trying to stay safe during a pandemic.

“Things may work at first but if they get bad as the semester goes on what happens if I don’t want to go to class?” Said Angelo.

With her social anxiety, Angelo struggles with trust. In a back to school system that is depending upon the trust and accountability of students by having them fill out and submit a form each day before class that screens their symptoms if any, Angelo is uneasy. Even with the use of a system that Marquette is using to allow students to screen their symptoms Angelo worries what help that would be if people are not honest or don’t use it. Not only that, but students must abide by distancing guidelines designed to keep everyone safe.

When Marquette transitioned to online classes to finish out the 2020 spring semester, Angelo says she was challenged to adapt to the sudden shift. Her reoccurrence of a lack of motivation affected her learning.

“Online classes are harder to engage with and also, being stuck in my room behind a computer every day can be very difficult for me especially when I am used to education being a social experience,” says Angelo.

As a result, the prospect of going online again for the upcoming year has only caused Angelo to be more unsure about how she will be able to achieve that work-mental health equilibrium.

Even though Angelo knows that Marquette has given her the decision to choose to go fully online, making this decision has her feeling vexed. She knows that being scared get sick on campus would affect her mental health, but she also knows that being in person would benefit her ability to achieve the grades she is striving for. Inversely, she knows that she would not be as anxious if she were doing classes online, but again this would leave her worried about her ability to stay motivated each day.

Matthew Martinez, a sophomore in the College of Communication, says that before the pandemic, he always felt like he was generally an anxious person, but once the coronavirus became a part of everyday life, he found himself confronted with the effects of his anxiety more, especially when it came to his class load.

“When I heard that we weren’t going back after spring break, I just got super stressed and didn’t know what to do because I knew things would get a lot harder for me,” says Martinez.

Martinez has not been diagnosed officially with anything relating to mental health.

As positive COVID-19 case numbers continue to grow in Wisconsin, Martinez faces the reality of going back to school in-person. Along with the mental impact the pandemic has on him, Martinez also struggles with asthma and fears that because of that getting sick could be much more dangerous for him.

“Knowing what the research says about how it is more dangerous for people with asthma, it just makes me more nervous to be on a college campus right now.” Said Martinez

He says he feels an immense amount of anxiety about the possibility of a large outbreak happening on campus. That, paired with the usual stress he feels, will just “multiply (my) anxiety by two.”

Like Angelo, Martinez says that he feels he has to choose between his academic success and his health, and while this is “extremely unfair” it is just the reality. He says he feels that going online is not worth the money for the educational experience he would have, but also that it would make things harder for him, and while he does want to stay safe, given the fact he has asthma, he feels he as to do in-person classes in order to succeed in the way he would like to this semester.

Nicholas Jenkins, counselor and coordinator of mental health advocacy at the Marquette Counseling Center, says he and his team are preparing to go fully online for this upcoming semester. 

Using Microsoft Teams, Jenkins says that the counseling center will be able to provide free online video counseling for Marquette students in the fall semester. Jenkins says the decision to go online for counseling was to prevent big groups of students from forming in the waiting room as can often happen during a normal school day.

Another resource that the Counseling Center is excited to introduce during the fall semester is the Silvercloud app. The mental health app is used at a variety of other universities across the country and allows users to participate in therapy modules that are geared to help individuals who suffer from an array of mental health issues.       

Despite the app and the Microsoft Teams meetings, Jenkins says there are nerves within the Counseling Center as they hope they can keep up with the possible demand in an unprecedented semester. He says that the center saw a 12% increase in patients last fall, in which he says tested the center’s ability to keep up with demand.  

For the upcoming year, Jenkins says the Counseling Center is able to add another staff member that will hopefully arrive in the fall.

As we live through such an unpredictable time,  tending to ones mental health is more important than ever, and while Marquette looks to have taken the steps needed to accommodate this the practice of what this semester will look like are yet to be seen.

This story was written by Beck Andrew Salgado. He can be reached at beck.salgado@marquette.edu.