Let’s take a breather

Spring reading week is important for mental health, but perhaps one break is not enough

Exam season is almost upon us, which means endless amounts of caffeine and bidding your friends farewell for a few weeks. Thankfully, we have those glorious seven days in February to catch up on that pile of homework. 

Reading week is a chance to recuperate, and many students agree that it’s a vital part of maintaining mental health while in school. Then why do we only get this break during our winter semester, and not in fall?

The fall term is slightly shorter than the winter, but this doesn’t mean the workload is any less overwhelming. We still have exams and many of us still need a break from the demanding environment that surrounds us.

The idea of beginning classes a week early and having a second in November is not a new one. It’s already been implemented by many Canadian universities. 

Maclean’s magazine wrote about the rise of fall reading weeks in 2011. They mentioned numerous schools that had made the change, including Ryerson University, University of Ottawa, and Trent University (which has had a fall reading week since 1964). 

Wilfred Laurier University (WLU) approved the idea in 2014. After their first implementation of the break this school year, they were met with positive responses from students and staff. One student wrote in the WLU international student blog, “With all the energy that I have gained back from my break, I look forward to going back to school and starting a new page in my semester.” 

Since 2011, more schools have hopped on board, including Dalhousie University. Its proposal for a fall reading week in 2014 included detailed information about students’ mental health of students with facts and figures provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). 

Rates of mental illness are higher among post-secondary students. CMHA reminds us that this is a time when students could be feeling homesick and may not be close to their support systems including family and friends. 

It’s also a time of transition for young adults. Many could be dealing with romantic problems or struggling to support themselves. A second reading week could also provide a chance to get in some extra work hours.

According to Klinic Community Health Centre, which offers a local crisis line and counselling services, February and November, are both steadily busy. Though fall not as busy as the winter, this could be due to a gradual building up of stress throughout the school year. Perhaps with a second break, this build-up will not be as extreme.

After gathering a general census on Facebook, I found most students in my network would support the idea of a fall reading week, and more than two mentioned it would be helpful to have a bit of a breather.

In university, it’s all about getting ahead of the game. Perhaps starting classes a week earlier would be worth it if we are given a chance to breathe before we have to jump right into the madness of exam time.

Tessa Gauthier is a third year psych student who thoroughly endorses sarcastic people. She enjoys making weird art and causing uncomfortable silence with Freudian references.

Published in Volume 69, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 18, 2015)

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