The reality of spring break

Spring break, according to a Google search, shows the dream – not the reality. There is a reason it is called ‘reading week’ by many institutions instead.

A week off at the halfway mark was created to give students a mental break from an overwhelming semester. Yet, this is no longer the case for many students.

A 2012 Queens University report shows the student-aged population fall into the highest-risk age group for mental illnesses. The report also notes suicide is the primary cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, after motor-vehicle accidents.  Though unconfirmed, it is a widely held belief that reading weeks were created so students will not consider suicide. In India, a student dies by suicide every hour, which is presumed to be the result of stress or pressure to maintain high grades.

Maintaining a balance between school and life can be difficult. Reading weeks unwittingly allow students to have a breather – at least, that is the purpose, even if it means time to catch up on assignments (or to not catch up). Students require a break for their mental health. A week off from school will bring a balance, especially after almost seven weeks of hectic assignments, tests and midterms.

Yet the break is not actually a break. Personally, I had nothing to look forward to over the break. I picked up extra shifts at work and stressed over upcoming assignments due the week we returned.

Two summers ago, I vacationed in my parents’ home country for a month. In my return back home, I felt refreshed, and as though my existence was renewed. That following semester was by far my most memorable. I experienced a new kind of energy that came with a lot of inspiration and motivation.

This renewed feeling was the initial intention of the breaks. Students were supposed to go home to family and friends, rest, and be briefly free of school. Students were then supposed to return for the second half of a semester with a clear and fresh mind. As a full-time student and part-time employee -among other things – reading weeks keep me sane, and (kind of) cuts down on me rather spontaneously snapping at people.

The millennial generation of students is not resilient enough, according to the Queens report. It suggests learning to become resilient will underline for a healthy approach to life, while assisting those living with stress and mental illness. The report states students today are not emotionally equipped to manage the usual highs and lows of independent life.

The years we spend at a post-secondary institution represents a time when significant human development occurs, according to the report. Students acquire life, academic and career skills, experience personal development and are prepared for independent living. Most importantly, they develop the ability to manage adversity and become resilient. A post-secondary environment needs to be “crucible” in this regard, the Queens report says.

What is the point of a break students cannot utilize? Maybe we should rename it ‘Mental health week.’ That may better emphasize the purpose of these breaks. After all, students deserve a better break – and more than those they get from a Kit Kat bar.