The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

Mental Health During Projects and Exams

As midterms come to close, tired students prepare for finals
Feven Mamo
Yeida Elias Sandoval, a third-year student majoring in criminal justice with a minor inLatino studies and sociology, resumes her midterm preparation by consulting her notesafter a brief mental break, on oct. 31, 2023.(Feven Mamo/Xpress Magazine)

Students balancing school, work and personal life can create an impact on students’ mental health. According to the research paper “Trends in College Student Mental Health and Help-seeking by Race/Ethnicity: Findings from the National Healthy Minds Study, 2013-2021,” which was published in June 2022 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, there was nearly a 50% increase from 2013 to 2020-2021 in students meeting criteria for one or more mental health problems. During the fall semester, multiple factors arise in impacting student mental health.

Vincent Lam, senior mental health education coordinator at SF State’s Health Promotion and Wellness unit, said from his perspective, students on campus must balance different responsibilities.

“Many people are working, some people are commuting [and] having to balance a full course load. And I think also too people thinking they can do a lot because they experienced some of the flexibilities of online learning,” said Lam.

Lam explained that acute stress is temporary with an endpoint while chronic stress lasts for an extended period of time.

Graphic by Lydia Perez

“Our bodies aren’t meant to endure chronic stress and when you are not addressing chronic stress, because it activates your nervous system, your fight-or-flight response, it impacts your bodily functions,” said Lam.

He said chronic stress impacts sleep, digestion and immune system health. Lam said that the strong connection with the mind and body, also affects mental health.

When Yeida Elias Sandoval, a third-year student majoring in criminal justice and minoring in both sociology and Latina studies, started at SF State. She found it easier to enroll in online courses than the few courses held on campus. Elias Sandoval said the workload was easier when she first started because she was only commuting to campus two days per week.

Elias Sandoval’s mental health declined in her first year around midterms. At the time, she was commuting from Antioch and still learning the concept of midterms. 

“I would just come back really tired, drained, [with] no [motivation] to want to even do my work,” said Elias Sandoval.

Being a first-generation student, Elias Sandoval wanted to seek resources for support in studying. Her family understood she was learning the ins and outs of college but she still felt pressure despite their reassurances.

“I felt like a lot of family members were watching me and to this day, sometimes I feel like I have to be this example for the younger ones who are in school and hoping they can stay on the right path [to] at least want to pursue something in their life,” said Elias Sandoval.


Balancing Work, School and Personal Life

“I am also balancing work at the same time and I do come back tired. In that sense, that’s how it’s affecting my mental health because I come back from work [at] 9:30 — sometimes 10:00 — and on top of that I still have a paper I need to do. Sometimes I’ll even take my laptop to my job to be working [on assignments],” said Elias Sandoval.

Mia Hill, a second-year student majoring in psychology, finds it refreshing to have a rigid schedule to know when to dedicate time to herself.She ranks tasks based on three criteria from most to least important: school, work and personal life. Hill said her boss asked when her finals were and he took her off the schedule without asking her so Hill could focus on finals.

Both midterms and finals are stressful for Hill, but she has a more positive outlook when it comes to finishing finals. With finals, she can go home to see her family for winter break. This semester, Hill has had essays to write for midterms but felt she hadn’t learned anything. 

“I’m away from my family so I have to work, I have to do all these things but I’m sitting here like ‘what’s the point, I’m not learning anything,’” said Hill. “It’s a lot of fighting back on ‘this is important, you have to finish this’ but at the moment it doesn’t feel worth it.”

Hannaiz Elias, a second-year student at SF State, said as someone who struggles with her mental health and bases her level of success academically, finals and midterms are the hardest times for her mentally.

“I’m putting so much pressure on myself to focus on so many classes that are requiring papers and exams for midterms, and then trying to learn — let’s say a whole semester’s work before midterms,” said Elias.

Yeison Rodriguez, a second-year student, said he gets stressed preparing for midterms and finals. However, his lowest point comes when he doesn’t know how well he did.

“Once I finish a midterm […] I feel very sad, exhausted, I don’t want to do anything, I want to go lay down and literally stay in bed for two or three hours,” said Rodriguez.

Jalen Sharp, an instructor at SF State, teaches health equity and social justice. Instead of midterms, Sharp chooses to assign informal presentations. Her students also have a final paper due at the end of the semester that they work on through the entire semester.

“By the end of the semester, all they are doing is cleaning and compiling the final paper that they have been working on throughout the semester, so that way when finals time comes, they are pretty much cleaning up and turning in a final and they have more space and time for all the other tests and finals they have at the end of the semester,” said Sharp.

Sharp found that she has to remember that although academia is a very important piece of her students’ lives, it’s not the only piece — and often not the main piece.

“The pandemic taught me to place the importance of their time and their lives in a contextual place to understand how to best serve them as an educator,” said Sharp. After the pandemic, Sharp outlined her curriculum taking into consideration the justification or utility of each assignment.

Elias Sandoval said she was also experiencing imposter syndrome and anxiety. According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information, imposter syndrome is described as self-doubt of skills or accomplishments among high-achieving people.

“Having to finish college is a goal of mine but it’s like — I tell myself ‘How did I even get here?’ This is just out of luck that the school even wanted a student like me,’ or telling myself ‘You need to work and get more money instead of having to get your degree.’ Because in this situation your family really needs support, financially,” said Elias Sandoval.


Holidays and Breaks

Hannaiz Elias, a second-year student majoring in nursing and psychology, finds Reliefin knitting as a way to unwind amidst her studies, on oct. 31, 2023.(Feven Mamo/XpressMagazine) (Feven Mamo)

Despite the holidays happening during the fall semester, Elias feels there’s not a second where she can relax. Even when she is taking a break after studying, she’s thinking about the next thing she has to work on. Elias said even though Thanksgiving break gives students a week off, she said it’s not enough for a student to mentally rest.

Allan Garcia, a fourth-year student at SF State and resident assistant at the University Park North dorms, said that holidays colliding with academics create financial stress for students who moved to campus and are trying to go home for the holidays.

“Because of the holidays, people want to go home and see their families. That’s not an inexpensive trip to book during the holidays,” said Garcia.

“A lot of these students I’m sure, probably a good majority just to be able to afford to live here, have to work and also people here have their own personal relationships whether it’s a romantic significant other or with their family back home or just stuff they have to balance,” said Garcia.

Garcia said finals and midterms both bring him stress since he tries to make arrangements to go home while he has to balance academics. His sister recently had a baby, making him want to go home even more.


Services and Taking Care of Mental Health

Elias said she goes to the tutoring and academic support center (TASC). She said she feels lost because it’s hard to absorb what is being taught in tutoring when thinking about a topic for an upcoming exam. She said she needs to use the resources because she knows it’s helpful, however, those resources are things she would have to make time for — time she could be spending studying

Hinako Ishikawa, a tutor at TASC, said students go there for a 15-minute tutoring session but at times, students come in speaking about their struggles with procrastination or issues they have with their professors. Ishikawa said more students have been coming into TASC recently. 

“I think I have more students probably because midterms passed and now they’re going to face final essays or final exams,” said Ishikawa.

Ishikawa held a workshop for her colleagues discussing how they can have healthier academic lives and tutoring sessions. The tutors learned about the eight dimensions of well-being, intersectionality and society’s effect on people’s mental health. In the workshop, they discussed how they can help students who are struggling.

“There’s this premise we can’t solve everything. We only have 15 minutes in each session and we are also not professional counselors or therapists but we can still navigate,” said Ishikawa.

Part of Lam’s job is to develop health education program activities and events to focus on prevention and develop life skills around mental health and addressing stigma and reducing stigma.

He said they provide rotated self-care kits for students to use such as tea, mindful hand massages and sleep kits. The unit also hosts Wags for Wellness, a monthly event where therapy animals are brought to campus.

Elias Sandoval said midterms have gotten easier since she’s living on campus, where she has access to TASC and friends to study with. However, she is still trying to figure out a good balance between work and school. 

When it comes to taking care of her mental health, Elias Sandoval said she went to Counseling and Psychological Services to talk to someone about what she was feeling. She also practices self-care such as grounding techniques, journaling and going to the gym. 

Elias said she knits when she’s taking a break but still thinks about work. 

“After we finished that last lecture, our professor, made a note of ‘Make sure you guys are keeping all your notes and when you get this exam back, make sure you study it because our final’s coming up,’” said Elias.

Working at the university’s Metro College Success Program as a student leader, Rodriguez helps students with academics, registering for classes and applying for financial aid. He said most students he works with are having difficulty with school.

“I have some students who are having so much difficulty to the point that they’re about to drop out,” Rodriguez said. “There’s some students who don’t know what’s happening and need a lot of help; there’s others who just gave up at this point.”

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About the Contributors
Lydia Perez
Lydia Perez, Staff Reporter
Lydia Perez (she/her) is a fourth-year student majoring in print and online journalism and minoring in Labor and Employment Studies. Growing up in Oakland, she watched the morning news every day sparking her interest in journalism. Besides school and work, she hangs out with friends (typically at the movie theater), family, reads, or spends time at home with her pets while watching TV shows.
Feven Mamo
Feven Mamo, Staff Photographer

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