In 2020, the University created a trimester plan that asked the incoming class to take classes during the spring and summer semester. Now, after almost a year of school with no more than a few weeks off, we talk with members of the class of ’24 about their struggles with mental health and burnout since coming to Brown.
Katy Pickens ’24
This semester has been a big kick in the pants for almost all Brown students coming out of the darkest depths of the pandemic. It's been cathartic in many ways, but some students, especially sophomores who have been on campus for three semesters in a row with almost no breaks, are feeling the pressure of being back in full swing of things. I spoke to four sophomores who agreed to share their stories of burnout and mental health struggles through three long semesters and navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic. I'm Katy Pickens. Welcome back to the Bruno Brief. Here’s Mason Thomas, a sophomore I spoke with.
Mason Thompson ’24
I understood that Brown was gonna have restrictions coming on campus, but I wasn't expecting to feel so constricted. It was really hard for me, especially socially, because I am quite a bit of an introvert. So feeling that mixed with even more social isolation than normal, that was really hard for me.
After that first semester, Mason decided to transfer to Brescia University in her home state of Kentucky. And she says her mental health is the best it's been in a long time.
You know, I totally understand them wanting to have a lot of COVID restrictions. I mean, as a university, that's a hard decision to make. But I don't really feel like they've done enough regarding, like, student's mental health. I don't know, I feel like the University didn't do enough to tell students about mental health resources on campus.
I've talked to a few students who have some similar experiences to Mason in the spring, but decided to stay at Brown through the summer and the fall.
Riley Schornak ’24
As soon as I got around, I started seeing someone from CAPS, and they recommended I go on medication, but medication didn't end up working out. So I started transitioning off of the medication this summer, and basically have not been able to get more than one CAPS appointment since stopping my medication. So it's been a bit of a train wreck. I've had now three different CAPS appointments getting cancelled.
That's Riley, the therapist she was seeing in the spring wasn't able to see her for several weeks this semester. And Riley was recently notified that she was on extended leave.
I mean, I haven't been trying every second to get an appointment. But it's really hard when you're working yourself up to go into that, and then it gets cancelled. To like work yourself back up to going is kind of a process in and of itself.
Em was another student who I interviewed in the spring semester, who had decided to switch to remote study. They have also struggled with CAPS in the past. And now they go to a non-University mental health provider.
Em Trautner ’24
I'm so lucky to have access to mental health care outside of Brown because a lot of my friends don't and when they're having mental health crises, I can't even say in good faith, like “go to CAPS, they'll help,” because CAPS will respond to the crisis and reduce the risk that you're a harm to yourself and others, but like CAPS just 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. Therapy is not a couple sessions every once in a while and then you're good.
They imagine a university where the college mental health services reach out to students to check in rather than the other way around.
I hope that Brown hires more psychologists, puts more funding into mental health services, because the students want it. The students need it. There's so many people I know who are like, "Yeah, I went to CAPS and they didn't have the support I needed.” It’s really heartbreaking.
I asked CAPS leadership, who, since the spring, have not had a director to lead the team, about student concerns, about inconsistent scheduling and the lack of long-term care. Their responses came in email form. They noted that the staff had experienced some attrition due to retirement and out of state moves, but that students who are engaged in treatment with a therapist or psychiatrist at CAPS should be able to schedule additional appointments with that provider. They wrote that students were able to work with CAPS staff to create collaborative plans for treatment, which can include long-term care. According to the email, for the majority of the fall 2021 semester, students have been able to schedule a routine appointment within two to five business days. While the students I talked to said the transition back to in-person has been largely positive, it's been difficult to just get reacquainted with a full workload of courses and extracurriculars along with a return to largely pre-pandemic scale social life. Zachary Boston was another student I spoke to last spring, he had decided to go home early, citing a lack of community and a feeling of isolation. He said that it's been more challenging than he thought to adjust back to a full swing social life, despite his excitement of finally getting the college experience that he wanted.
Zachary Boston ’24
I'm definitely feeling burnt out. I'm looking forward to the winter break, specifically because I'm getting more than just two weeks in between. I definitely feel like there's a social exhaustion. It’s just tiring.
In her list of priorities, Riley says it's easy for branching out socially to fall to the bottom of the list.
I have my people here, but still, you know, concerns about hanging out with large groups, and struggling with different mental health things. When something doesn't need to be done, I can't necessarily really bring myself to do it.
Em says it's important for them to deprioritize classes a bit in order to focus on taking care of themselves.
Quite honestly, I'm not really taking classes for the classes themselves this semester. I’m mainly taking them so that I get to live here in North House and have access to Brown's health care. I have not met many people at this institution who aren't stressed out about their courses, sacrificing sleep or their social life or family or their physical health or all for their courses. And I honestly don't think it's the best way to learn.
Through all this stress and overwork, will the nearly six week long winter break be the light at the end of the tunnel? Riley says she'll have to see.
I really hope that, I can, in the coming months like get in at CAPS and figure out what's going on. Because whatever's going on now is not working. I'm sort of hoping that I can turn a new corner with that. I'd 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.
This has been the Bruno Brief. Our show is produced by Livi Burdette, Corey Gelb-Bicknell, Max Karpawich, Ben Glickman and me, Katy Pickens. If you like what you hear, subscribe to the Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.