Depression and 24/7

A couple of days ago I attended a presentation from the Princeton Depression Awareness Program on how to detect problems with any students we might work with. PDAP, as it’s called, it trying to raise awareness with faculty and staff about the problems some students have and how we might be able to help them. I’m not sure how much I can help, since I usually don’t see the same students repeatedly over several sessions, but I applaud the effort. It seems a lot of students are diagnosed with depression, including severe depression, and that the onset age range begins about 15. From ages 15-20 I suffered from what I’ve come to understand was relatively severe depression, and there was certainly not as much awareness then. I just assumed thoughts of suicide and hopelessness were normal, but apparently they’re not. It might have been nice had someone mentioned that to me in high school or college. I probably would have ignored them, but at least someone would have made the effort. Nevertheless, the experience made me the man I am today, and those of you who know me can now nod sagely and mutter, yes, tis a pity.

During the presentation, one of the presenters talked about various stressors that can bring on depression, a common one being erratic sleep patterns or complete lack of sleep, which then led to a brief discussion of the importance of regular sleep patterns on health in general. She noted that some students seem to wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor. “I stayed up all night studying for this exam!” Most of us who work in public services get emails at all hours of the night from students, as I’m sure some of you do, too. One of my colleagues then brought up the demands libraries are sometimes under to remain open and accessible all the time. Students are used to and demand a 24/7 culture, according to just about every student trend-watching document I see. There are plenty of good reasons not to open libraries 24/7, from maintenance costs to the health of the staff, but one I hadn’t thought of before was the health of the student.

I always have reservations about meeting every student desire, because part of the educational mission of the university is to mold desires as much as meet them. The gratification that comes from learning is seldom instant, neither in its attainment nor its duration, and that is an important lesson to learn. No step along the way (e.g., retrieving a book) should be more time consuming than necessary, but there are some things that just can’t be done quickly. Normally, though, I think 24/7 access to the library is a good thing if possible, but now I wonder about the possible links between 24/7 access and the health of the students.

The assumption always seems to be that regarding library research, anything the students want is a good thing. It’s not like we’re setting up kegs in the stacks or anything. But by the creation of 24/7 libraries, are we capitulating to a demand that encourages unhealthy behavior? By advocating them, do we say, yes, it’s a good thing to stay up all night and sleep erratically so that your health suffers and you possibly bring on depression? Are sleep deprivation and the attendant health problems things we want libraries to encourage? I’m still not sure where I stand on this, but I do think these are important questions to consider.

3 thoughts on “Depression and 24/7

  1. Since I have an online reference job, I can say that most students *do* have 24/7 access, at least to databases (if not to librarians), thereby facilitating their ability to procrastinate. You can’t make college students sleep.

  2. That’s certainly true, and my library has some online resources as well. I think what I’m asking, and not saying, is whether, for example, having a 24/7 library that might possibly also provide caffeine is good for students.

  3. Interesting questions…
    I had my first breakdown with what was soon to be diagnosed as manic-depression in my third-year as an undergrad. My lack of sleep and overall stress definitely contributed to my problems. I was fortunate to have understanding professors and a great student mental health system available to me or I wouldn’t have made it.
    None of the libraries were open 24/7 at the time so that didn’t contribute to my problems. I did have to be careful in grad school because the computer lab was open 24/7 and there were times when I worsened my mental state by staying up and programming for days at a time. Even now I have to be careful to get my sleep.

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