As someone whose mental illness gets worse when under stress, I was very worried when I saw my exam schedule for this semester. I have three exams in three consecutive days. While this may seem like a regular amount of stress to someone who does not have mental health issues, for me it’s almost debilitating. My body completely shuts down when I’m under large amounts of stress for long periods of time. When I talked to some of my friends they were expressing the same concerns but with four exams in three days or three exams in two days. I was astonished to find out that there are no guidelines put in place to stop this from happening at the University of Windsor. When picking my courses, I had very little wiggle room as they were almost all prerequisites to courses I need to take next year. With the choice I did have, I made sure I picked courses without exams because I knew how much of an impact this could have on my mental health.
The National College Health Assessment, a fairly new survey that goes out to college and university students in Canada found that a fifth of Canadian post-secondary students are depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues. The statistics are only going up. With so much pressure put on exams, it is hard to make time for your mental health. A large number of exams are worth 30-40% of your grade. This is putting the pressure of all of your assignments for the past three months into one test. With this much riding on three hours, students often push themselves by pulling all-nighters or spending hours in the library. These things often lead to missing meals and having little to no social life. A quote from Janine Robb, the executive director of the Health & Wellness Centre at the University of Toronto and also a member of CACUSS by The Globe and Mail states, “’It’s all interconnected, bad sleep means less capacity to manage your emotions, means more anxiety, it’s hard for students to see the importance of resting and taking time away. It’s counterintuitive to them when they feel they should be studying and doing an all-nighter,’”.
There are many studies that show a direct link between mental illness and stress. While the stress experienced during exam periods is often considered acute stress, which is good for you, it can turn into chronic stress. “Stress, or being stressed out, leads to behaviors and patterns that in turn can lead to a chronic stress burden and increase the risk of major depression,” says Bruce McEwen, PhD to WebMD. Many places such as the Mayo Clinic lists “Inability to cope with daily problems or stress” as a symptom for mental illness.
Other universities in Ontario have created rules to help their students’ mental health when it comes to exams. Western University’s handbook states, “a student who is scheduled to write more than two such examinations in any 23-hour period, more than three in any 47-hour period, or more than four in any 71-hour period may request alternative arrangements through the office of the dean of their faculty.” The only rule the University of Windsor has in place is that a student may request a different exam time if they have back to back exam slots or three exams in one day. However, having five exams in five consecutive days is not considered a conflict, despite the risk of chronic stress.
Why does the University of Windsor put on events such as Mental Health Awareness Week and create strategies such as Living Well Lancers if they are not going to work with their students exam schedules? Students need support year-round, especially during high pressure times such as exams. Having services available to talk to someone is great, but it does not help when the university is not willing to work with students to eliminate the causes of chronic stress. With suicide being the second leading cause of death among young Canadians, accounting for almost one quarter of all deaths at ages 15 to 24, it is time for the University of Windsor to start working with their students when it comes to exam scheduling.