While summer is usually thought of as the time of year where students can take a break from their typical stress and responsibilities, the warm weather and vacation time doesn’t always bring beach days and rest. For many students, the switch from a regular school routine to the summer months can take a toll on their mental health. Though school can bring overwhelming amounts of homework, a lack of sleep, and academic and social pressures, it provides routine and stability. Without this structure, mental health can be harder to maintain, and it can also become more difficult for people to notice when friends or family members are struggling.
Students who rely on school resources, including psychologists, guidance counselors, trusted teachers, and other programs like school-provided meals, may suffer during summer break when resources are reduced, paused, or inaccessible on an individual level. Guidance counselors or teachers may fill the role of trusted adult in which a student may feel comfortable confiding in, which can alleviate the feelings of stress, sadness, or other difficulties. Furthermore, school psychologists, while already limited in services and funding, do not typically continue providing the same services over the summer. Visits with these psychologists usually happen while in school, during in-school hours. Therefore, individuals dependent on this mental health care are left with limited, if any, support in the summer. This can be particularly harmful for students living with conditions or in situations that require structured support from the school.
For college students, though mental health services are offered independent from academic offices, many schools tend to discontinue or reduce the majority of their services during the summer. Not all students live near their college during the summer months, creating a tangible barrier between them and free, accessible healthcare. Ideally, schools should expand their mental health services to cover students remotely over the summer. Most schools have already shown that they can administer adequate services via Zoom, giving less reason to halt them over the summer. Though licensing restrictions limit the reach of these programs, not all services are subjected to barriers regarding state-lines. At the bare minimum, state-schools, where most students leave their college town but remain in the same state, should expand counselling services to cover the needs of students over the summer.
On top of lacking resources provided in-school, students also lose the structure and stability. Routines provide consistency and have a multitude of mental health benefits, from reducing stress and anxiety to easing symptoms of bipolar disorder to mitigating substance abuse. Routines help alleviate anxiety by setting expectations for a typical day and allowing people to feel more certain that they can tackle all their responsibilities on a given day. Having a regular schedule also ensures that you are able to eat proper meals throughout the day. In the school year, meal times can be designated by a fairly regular schedule. Meal times are less stable in the summer, where there is either a lack of structure, or a new schedule from work or other commitments that provide less convenient breaks. A nutritious and fulfilling diet is an important facet of our mental health; a lack of routine that contributes to less frequent or balanced meals can be detrimental to an individual’s overall wellness. Routines also are protective against burnout when they include flexibility for self-care and time to recharge after a busy day or week.
In addition to the benefits of routines on mental health, they can also help individuals identify when they may be suffering from poor mental health. In the summer, many symptoms of mental health can go unnoticed by family members, peers, or the individual struggling themselves. Some warning signs of mental health conditions include losing interest in activities usually loved by the individual, sleeping too much or too little, falling behind in work or school, and isolating from friends and family. These signs can become very noticeable during the school year when individuals fall out of their normal routine (i.e., sleeping in, being late for school, drop in academic performance, skipping after school activities, etc.). However, in the summer, there is less peer interaction and less need to adhere to a consistent schedule. Therefore, it becomes much more difficult to identify when a behavior is a cause for concern, and consequently less people will be referred to help when needed.
Though the expansion of school services is one of the key fixes that can alleviate mental health symptoms in the summer, it’s understood that this is not the current reality for most people. Alternative services that can be used are Crisis Text Line (Text HELLO to 741-741) or The Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) when immediate support is needed during a crisis. Other resources, like BetterHelp or Open Counselling, can connect you with free or affordable online services to support your needs over the summer. You can also research support groups, either that convene virtually or locally. Many support groups are free and offered by non-profit organizations, but there are also options for group therapy that may be covered by insurance. Additionally, if you are in college, check with your university to see if group sessions are continued in the summer. This not only gives you additional mental health support, but adds structure to your week and keeps you connected with peers over the summer.
Everyone can benefit from taking simple steps to safeguard their mental health this summer, whether or not you seek professional services. Establishing your own routine and goals for the summer can help provide consistency and reap positive mental health benefits. This can include setting an alarm to wake up at the same time everyday, going for a walk or being active in some way each day, designating leisure time to spend on hobbies or with friends and family, or even journaling. By taking these steps, you can help ease the transition periods between school and summer and protect your mental health.
Know that you are never alone and help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a trained, caring counselor.