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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Implementation of mental health days at UW could contribute to student wellbeing

To supplement systemic changes to campus mental health resources, mental health days can offer immediate support
Marissa Haegele

The University of Wisconsin has no designated mental health days throughout the entire calendar school year. This needs to change. 

In the past month, two students passed away, as UW reported March 27 and April 8. Not only do these tragic deaths affect those students’ friends and families, but the greater campus community as well. 

After the passing of these students, UW sent out emails to the campus community encouraging students to reach out to University Health Services crisis lines or the Dean of Students Office if they needed assistance. One email explained that students who were in proximal vicinity to the area where the death occurred were reached out to directly, but other other campus community members were asked to reach out themselves if they wanted support.


Other universities across the United States have mental health days, or a day without classes for students to relax and take care of themselves, according to NPR. Mental health days offer students a small break from strenuous college courses and homework, which doesn’t stop at UW until the three-day fall break at the end of November, spring break in mid-March or the end of the semester. Students have one study day before exam week starts, but this is not a time most students have the flexibility to dedicate toward mental health or relaxation.

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Mental health services at UW are also limited. UHS currently employs just over 70 staff members specializing in mental health for a student enrollment of 49,886. Though UW encourages students to reach out to UHS and schedule a counseling appointment if they are in need of therapy, most counselors booked out for weeks or months, meaning students wouldn’t be able to actually speak with someone for extended periods of time. Students on campus created a petition and posted flyers across campus buildings to encourage UHS to increase their mental health staffing to better support students.

Since mental health support provided by the university is so understaffed, the implementation of mental health days could fill this gap. There are complaints by some in higher education that wellness days are an easy solution to a complex problem, and that mental health services at universities should be wholly revamped instead.

While this statement is certainly accurate, that doesn’t mean that wellness days shouldn’t be implemented. Yes, UW should revamp its mental health services to provide greater support for students, but that change is bound to take time. Students can’t wait months or even years for a systemic change — they need options for mental health support now.

The changes needed to mental health services at UW are vast. First, the attitude and mindset amongst staff and faculty must be altered to be more supportive of students who need days off for mental health services. It is important for students to turn in their work on time and attend class, but not if it comes at the expense of a student’s mental wellbeing. The campus culture in this regard must be changed. 

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Second, mental health services at UHS must be improved. This includes increased staffing so students can book appointments they need in a timely manner. With more than 49,000 students, the number of UHS counselors simply do not have the capacity to meet the demand for mental health services.

As mentioned previously, however, these changes are substantial and won’t happen overnight. It could take years for these changes to be implemented. While wellness days cannot be the entire solution, they can certainly be a temporary solution while the university takes steps to address the bigger problem.

Implementing mental health days is sometimes met with concerns about the number of instruction days required by a public university. At UW, the academic year is 39 weeks with no fewer than 34 weeks of instruction or classroom activities for students. These required instruction days pose little challenges to UW’s implementation of mental health days — classes could simply end a few days later.

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In terms of actually implementing these mental health days, they would be best situated in between major breaks. For example, in October, when students are more adjusted to their schedule but may be stressed about preparing for midterms, or in April, when students are in a mad rush from spring break to finals. 

Though having two or three mental health days in an academic year is not the most comprehensive solution for aiding students in their mental health struggles, it can be a part of the effort. At the very least, having mental health days can show students that the university is conscious of the pressure put on them and understands the importance of mental health. 

While campus culture and attitudes of educators need a drastic change to fully support the mental health of students, having a few mental health days can serve as an intermediary step, providing them with a well-needed break from school during the times they need it the most.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.

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