In an unprecedented step for many colleges and universities around the country, Virginia State University has given students today off to “address increased loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression, in part caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Get the full story from the NBC12 story below.

Classes at VSU were canceled Tuesday for students to focus on their mental health. (Credit: NBC12)

Virginia State University (VSU) students, faculty and staff took Tuesday to decompress from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Classes were canceled on Sept. 28 as the day was designated as ‘Trojan Wellness Day,’ so everyone could commit to mental health. Students were encouraged to take this day to participate in health and wellness activities and prioritize self-care.

“I am super excited that the university responded in such a positive way,” said Cynthia Ellison, Executive Director of VSU’s Health and Wellness program.

In a matter of four days, the idea of a mental health day on VSU’s campus became a reality!

“I know students have been pretty stressed out with still being in the midst of a pandemic, as well as attending classes and trying to stay safe,” said VSU’s Student Government Association President Kameron Gray.

Trying to juggle that, and getting good grades, has been difficult, but has not gone unnoticed.

“They have truly been troopers through all this,” said Donald Palm, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of VSU. “We wanted to make sure we gave them the opportunity to also kind of decompress, and really reflect and be ready to move forward.”

According to the CDC, “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives and present challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children.”

“The fact that we were able to do this says that we understand health is wealth and that we want our students to be whole, mind, body and soul,” Ellison said.

Some students taking that focus to heart through a yoga class offered Tuesday. Others opting for progressive muscle relaxation and even massages.

“Achieving a university-wide COVID-19 positivity rate of less than one percent is no small feat. It requires a great deal of work by our faculty, students, staff, and administration,” VSU President, Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, said. “Not only is everyone under a significant amount of pressure, dealing with the typical stress of higher education, but now everyone is doing so with the added demands and exertions of a global pandemic. This makes intentional intervention to address physical and emotional wellness—all the more necessary, which is exactly what this Trojan Wellness Day is all about.”

“It’s a great idea,” said Dr. LaKesha Roney, a VSU alumna. “I think more universities really need to have that same mindset.”

Roney is proud of the move by her alma mater. The licensed counselor is all too familiar with the impacts COVID-19 has left.

“A lot of what I’m hearing from clients is just feeling overwhelmed, stressed, increased symptoms of anxiety, depression,” she said.

As a current adjunct professor at George Mason University, and the former Counseling Director for VSU, Roney said it’s important to make sure mental wellness is incorporated every day.

“Even if it’s just taking a lunch break, a quick break from your desk to get up and take a quick five-minute walk,” she added.

“I know that we’ll be even more productive tomorrow as we come out of this particular day off,” Palm said.

Employees could also choose Sept. 28 to use a leave day or a relaxed workday. Faculty and staff were also encouraged to dress down, attend on-campus mental health activities, and spend additional time checking on co-workers.

The opportunity was a result of a collaborative effort between university administrators, faculty and student groups. The hope is to incorporate more of these wellness opportunities in the future.