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Class of ’24 shares experiences of extreme burnout, lack of time off

Sophomores have been on campus since spring with limited breaks, leading to exhaustion

The class of 2024 has been on campus since January with brief breaks between semesters, causing many sophomores to feel the strain of burnout after an isolated and socially-distanced start to their college careers.

In an effort to reduce density on campus because of COVID-19, the University implemented a tri-semester plan, The Herald previously reported. Many sophomores struggled to find community this past spring, and as the pandemic has begun to subside, some have found the return to normalcy rewarding, but also exhausting.

Transition to in-person, trimester schedule: sophomores share struggles

“Transitioning back to in-person everything has been a lot,” Riley Schornak ’24 said. “I’ve been really struggling mental health-wise.” Balancing academics, work, mental health and a social life has been difficult, according to Schornak.

Schornak said she first went to Counseling and Psychological Services in the spring, and was eventually diagnosed with depression and OCD. She was assigned a general practitioner at the University. “They recommended I go on medication, but the medication didn’t end up working out,” she said. “So I started transitioning off of medication this summer and basically have not been able to get more than one CAPS appointment since.”

“It’s been really stressful and frustrating to not have that resource accessible,” Schornak added.

“​​Students who are engaged in treatment with a therapist or psychiatrist at CAPS should be able to schedule additional appointments with that provider,” wrote Erin Lane-Aaronian, Hercilia Corona and Kelly Holder, assistant directors for Counseling and Psychological Services, in an email to The Herald. 

“CAPS is committed to helping students access mental health supports,” they wrote. “Although we are in a moment where there is exceptionally high demand for mental health services both on and off campus, for the majority of the fall 2021 semester students have been able to schedule a routine appointment within two to five business days, and we always have same day urgent appointments available as needed.”

Schornak was finally able to schedule a CAPS appointment in late October, and has since been able to have a telehealth visit through HealthiestYou, a telehealth organization the University has partnered with to increase student access to mental healthcare, The Herald previously reported.

“We have definitely provided support for the current sophomore cohort and have been monitoring the impact of what being on campus since January 2021 has felt like,” wrote Lane-Aaronian, Corona and Holder. 

Schornak said that her experience with mental health wasn’t made easier by being on campus for three consecutive semesters. Depression and burnout “kind of go hand in hand,”  Schornak said. “I think one exacerbates the other.”

“The pressure’s cumulative,” said Caziah Mayers ’24 about sophomores taking courses for three semesters in a row. “We have had basically no break, especially if you’re an athlete and or a (Residential Peer Leader).”

Mayers took classes remotely while working in the spring and has been on campus in the semesters since. He explained that, despite making close friends and enjoying going back to in-person classes, “three (consecutive) semesters of college is ridiculous.”

Mayers also said that he was experiencing a lot of burnout as a Black student. “Beyond the near-continuous year of school, the missed milestones, the social isolation, the financial struggles and so much more, Black students particularly have continued to endure all of that and daily micro/macro aggressions,” Mayers wrote in an email to The Herald.

“We’re tired of masks and masking ourselves. At least for me, that’s where a lot of my exhaustion is coming from, which is to say nothing of what happens outside of campus both in my life and in the wider world,” Mayers wrote. “It’s a lot. I know many BIPOC students feel this way; It’s a frustrating line to walk.”

Mayers said he’s noticed some sophomores feeling distant from other class years and faculty because of their unusual first year. “There’s a sense of disconnect,” he said.

“This semester we are definitely hearing from students that they are experiencing moments or longer stretches of feeling fatigued or overwhelmed,” wrote the assistant directors for CAPS. “We also are hearing from some students that they thought it would be worse than it is, and the excitement of being back on campus with more freedom is helping with the overall experience.”

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They also shared that for the current semester, sophomores have comprised 24.3% of students seeking care from CAPS. Seniors tend to seek out CAPS most frequently, making up 27.5% of the total, indicating that struggles with mental health extend beyond the sophomore class. The assistant directors for CAPS declined to share data comparing demand for CAPS appointments from 2019 to now when asked by The Herald, writing that “the data from fall 2019 (our last in person semester) and fall 2020 (CAPS was fully remote that semester) are not easily compared to the current semester for a number of reasons.”

A pandemic year at Brown: class of 2024’s rocky start to college

Last April, The Herald spoke to three members of the class of 2024 who had switched from in-person to remote study part way through the semester for mental health reasons.

Em Trautner ’24 left early last spring after struggling with their mental health and feeling extremely isolated. This semester, Trautner said that they are taking two courses and working — a more well-balanced schedule that has been great for their mental health.

“We encourage students to take time to notice how their bodies and brains are feeling, and find space to do something that is not achievement-oriented,” Lane-Aaronian, Corona and Holder wrote. “Connection with others is especially helpful in combating burnout, and we love hearing from students that they are finding more opportunities for connection on campus this semester.”

Trautner said that while they’re doing better, they have noticed their friends and peers struggling under the strain of being in school for three consecutive semesters. 

The University “should be able to provide more ... therapists for their thousands of students with the amount of resources that they have,” Trautner added.

“CAPS is actively working to hire additional staff, as the CAPS team has experienced some attrition (retirements, out of state moves, etc) since the beginning of the pandemic,” Lane-Aaronian, Corona and Holder wrote.

“Mindful of the atypical experience current sophomores would have after starting their first semester in January and continuing through the summer, departments from the Division of Campus Life, the College, Class Coordinating Board and others planned a variety of in-person events and programs to welcome, engage and support sophomores at the start of fall semester,” wrote Koren Bakkegard, associate vice president for campus life and dean of students, in an email to The Herald.

“Many resources are available to students throughout their time at Brown, including Student Support Services,” she added. “The deans in Student Support Services assist students with a wide range of issues and concerns that might arise. The deans reach out to students who they know have experienced a variety of challenges, and they are available for students to reach out to as well.”

“CAPS simply doesn’t have the resources from this university to meet with students on a regular basis long-term, which is quite honestly what a lot of students need,” Trautner said.

“CAPS works with students individually to make collaborative plans (between student and therapist) for treatment,” the assistant directors of CAPS wrote. “CAPS offers a range of treatment options that can include long-term care for a student, particularly if there is a financial or insurance need that makes it hard for that student to access care off campus.”

Although Zachary Boston ’24 has started to “get into the groove of things” since going remote his first semester, he is “definitely feeling burnt out. I’m looking forward to the winter break,” he said.

While Trautner and Boston remained at Brown and said they were enjoying life on campus more with easing COVID-19 restrictions, Mason Thompson decided the best choice for her health was to transfer. Thompson had attended Brown as a first-year last spring and struggled with her mental health during that semester. While COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult to meet people, “a lot of it was personal issues that have come up in my life and struggles with anxiety,” Thompson said. “I was having a really hard time with that, and it just was progressively getting worse instead of getting better over time.”

Thompson ultimately decided to transfer to Brescia University in Kentucky, where she is from. “My mental health is so much better,” she said. “It’s the best it’s been in a long time.”

She said that last spring at Brown, she appreciated the health precautions but felt that mental health was not discussed as much as it could have been. “I feel like they didn’t factor in student mental health enough, because I saw so many students struggle with that,” she said. 

Looking ahead: what to expect in spring

Schornak said she “really hopes” that winter break will be enough time for the class of 2024 to recuperate after a year of classes. “I would love it if a month were enough, but the three weeks in the summer went by quickly enough that I have a feeling it probably won’t be.”

Mayers agreed that while winter break will be a much needed rest, he was worried that burnout would resume when the class returns to campus. “We’re just going to see this continue,” he said. “I feel like there’s going to be this level of (tiredness) and exhaustion that might just permeate our class.”

He emphasized the importance of sophomores taking care of themselves and recognizing that the pandemic created unusual and stressful circumstances.

“Don’t be afraid to breathe,” Mayers said. “People need to hear it again, and then tomorrow and then the day after that. It’s okay.”


Katy Pickens

Katy Pickens is a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism. She is a junior from Chicago studying urban and environmental studies with a passion for knitting tiny hats.



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