Our View: Take care of yourself!

CW Editorial Board

Health involves every aspect of an individual’s life, and college students are tasked with taking charge of their own health for the first time. 

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 

The Alabama Student Model of Health and Wellbeing gives students the opportunity to examine and improve their health holistically. The model was designed by the Division of Student Life “to promote a multifaceted, developmental, and holistic approach to well-being that maximizes each student’s learning experience.” 

The model includes academic, career, financial, psychological, physical, social and spiritual well-being. 

Academic 

The Division of Student Life promotes academic health resources like the Capstone Center for Student Success and the First Year Experience and Retention Initiatives. 

For students new to the atmosphere of higher education, these resources are vital to achieving academic health. By utilizing university resources, students can demystify this process.

Beyond providing a tangible benefit for students, these resources are also meaningful because of the message they send. Universities often signal to students that education is elitist and exclusionary

While students should have to work hard, any university that promotes grades and esteem over learning itself fails in its mission to educate. Equipping students with the opportunity to succeed on their own terms reminds them of the joy and gratification in learning. 

The University of Alabama must also consider ways to improve the academic health of its students, particularly those with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The current process of receiving accommodations from the Office of Disability Services is confusing and lengthy, discouraging disabled students from achieving true academic health. 

Self-advocacy is a valuable skill, but as long as students have to endure these obstacles, academic health will remain elusive. Reforming the process would require a long and unified effort, but we can start today by educating ourselves on the struggles chronically ill and disabled students face.

Career

Students can practice career health by developing a healthier attitude toward their future career paths. In college, there is an expectation that students are certain of their career goals and secure a job immediately after graduation. In reality, students often take months to secure employment, let alone their dream job. 

College students have to combat this internalized messaging. There is no use in comparing our own journeys to others’. We have only ourselves as competition. 

We must learn how to enjoy this period and live presently. At one point in our lives, all we thought about was going to college. Now that we’re here, let’s take full advantage of it.

The UA Career Center is the main resource on campus for students seeking to improve their career health. The Center offers a wide variety of services, including career fairs and personal counseling. 

While this resource is undoubtedly beneficial, many students ignore it. As college students, it can seem as though “the real world” is far away, but graduation is rapidly approaching. Finding a career doesn’t have to be a stressful process. It takes work, dedication and sometimes making many mistakes to find one’s calling. In the meantime, we can find joy in any part of our journey. 

Financial 

Financial health is one of the most difficult aspects of health to achieve. While the University offers financial aid, the financial barrier to college is not limited to the University; it is a systemic issue that saddles millions of students with debt every year. 

The student debt crisis has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing mass layoffs, many students decided to continue their college education, only to find that the price of college has increased by more than 25% in the last decade. 

Students cannot be expected to navigate this process alone. While there is no shortage of financial advice out there, much of it is not feasible for the average college student.

The U.S. is facing an epidemic of poor financial literacy. When we graduate college, we must tackle our massive debt and new careers. Without the tools to navigate this process, we may face decades of mental strain to achieve financial well-being. 

The University must take an active approach in promoting financial literacy on campus. There are many ways to do this, but the most obvious is to implement courses dedicated to financial literacy. The University offers a minor in personal finance, but students who can not afford the expense or the 22-credit hour commitment need alternatives. 

The financial literacy website is a good starting point. 

Psychological 

The resources for mental health on campus are numerous and effective, spanning multiple types of treatments tailored to each student’s needs, but there are still many ways the University can further promote mental health on campus. 

Despite widespread student activism, the University still falls behind in funding for the Counseling Center. It remains the only university in the SEC that charges students for therapy sessions after LSU began offering mental health services for free. 

The Student Government Association passed a resolution last year calling for increased funding for the center, but the resolution has seen little action since. Rhetoric promoting student mental health isn’t enough. The University must take an active role in promoting mental health on campus. The lives and well-being of students depend on it. 

Physical 

The University of Alabama boasts many spaces where students can enjoy physical activity. The exercise machines offered at the Student Recreation Center, coupled with engaging group classes, allow students to take charge of their fitness. 

But physical health extends beyond fitness and diet. The most pressing physical health concern for college students is lack of sleep. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of adults do not get enough sleep. For college students, this metric is no surprise. We regularly sacrifice sleep for our education, performing all-nighters just to achieve the grades we desire.

This lack of sleep to achieve success is a norm in college. It contributes to an overarching “hustle culture” that values productivity over well-being. 

Burnout must not be glamorized. 

We can combat this culture in our own lives by confronting this rhetoric. When you hear someone brag about their lack of sleep, don’t engage in a battle of who slept the least. Instead, encourage those around you to value their sleep schedules.

A full sleep schedule, rather than robbing us of our time, allows us the energy to perform to the best of our ability. Sacrificing our basic needs isn’t strength. Strength is found in our ability to recognize our needs and honor our minds and bodies.

Social 

There are many opportunities for students to improve their social health on campus. There are clubs and causes to get involved with.

The main obstacle to pursuing social health is ourselves. In high school, we had the luxury of seeing our friends every day. When we’re in charge of our own schedules, maintaining adult friendships becomes more difficult.

The best thing students can do to improve their social health is to meet new people. This task can be daunting and exhausting, but it really is the only way to cultivate meaningful connections.

Students often have limited mindsets about social interaction, falsely believing that friendships are only worth pursuing during their freshman year. In truth, most people want to feel appreciated and valued. The best way to make friends is to extend these feelings to others, and you will surely receive them in return. 

The objective of social interaction doesn’t have to be gaining a lifelong friend. It can simply be to serve others. When we think of how we can improve the lives of those on campus in our daily interactions, we will create a healthier, more enjoyable campus culture.

Spiritual

The University of Alabama benefits from many religious organizations. The SOURCE is a great way for students of all religious backgrounds to connect. 

However, the University can further promote spiritual health by recognizing the diversity of spirituality that exists on campus. 

To promote the experience of all students, we must implement religion-friendly practices in all aspects of campus, from classrooms that permit prayer breaks to dining hall menus that offer religion-friendly menus.

In 2019, the SGA Executive Cabinet announced the placement of a prayer mat in the UA Student Center Quiet Reflection Room for students who need a place to pray. These kinds of considerations and actions go a long way to make our campus a more accessible place for all. 

Conclusion 

Health is a comprehensive concept. If we are to truly achieve health in our own lives, and on campus, we must address all its aspects.

While the Alabama Student Model of Health and Wellbeing divides health into seven aspects, true health is some combination of these traits. Actions that promote physical health are bound to inspire mental health. Habits that improve academic health now will improve career health in the future.

To view health critically, we must understand that continued growth, while an admirable goal, isn’t the ultimate end result of healthy habits. When we relentlessly pursue growth, we can quickly become fixated on the flaws in our lives. We can become dissatisfied with our comfort. 

We must view healthy habits as a slow process, and forgive ourselves for the ways we fall short. We are not alone in pursuing health. A healthy campus will involve the collaboration of many dedicated individuals.

We often say we are a family at The University of Alabama. Let’s make this true, offering support and guidance for the health of our peers, campus and community.

This story was published in the Health Edition. View the complete issue here.

Questions? Email the opinions desk at letters@cw.ua.edu.