Steve Zylius/University of California, Irvine
With mental health issues rising among students, teachers are feeling pressure to support them.
A January survey by TimelyCare found that 76% of faculty and staff believe supporting students’ mental health is a job expectation.This reflects student expectations, with 45% of respondents to the 2023 Student Voice survey Inside higher education and College Pulse said they believe professors have a responsibility to help students address mental health issues.
Three-quarters of faculty surveyed by TimelyCare said they feel confident in helping students navigate campus mental health resources, but a similar number want more training or support in this area.
UC Irvine established the Office of Faculty Support Services in 2016 to provide faculty and staff with additional resources on behavioral health issues, crisis intervention, case management and well-being teaching training.
Teacher Assistance: Initially, the office was established to provide one-on-one assistance and consultation to faculty and staff to address their own issues, but it became clear that staff also wanted resources and education on how to better support students.
“I think what we’ve learned more clearly than ever through this pandemic is that teacher health and student health are no longer in opposition; they’re in opposition to each other.” There’s a lot of synergy there, and if we of teachers who are unwell, our students may not do as well,” said program director Negar Shekarabi.
Most commonly, however, professors are faced with a distressed student who is struggling in multiple areas of life. “It’s not always obvious that they’re necessarily struggling with mental health — they might be struggling academically because they’re experiencing housing insecurity or food insecurity and all kinds of things that come up,” Shekala Than say.
Create resources: The goal is to make it easy for faculty and staff to have difficult conversations with struggling students to understand the greatest needs and provide helpful recommendations.
“Not every student who is having trouble has to go to a counseling center,” Rabbi Sheka said. “I’m still helping teachers feel more empowered in their conversations with students, ask more questions, and understand situations better.”
Much of the training and resources provided by Shekarabi provide space for teachers to practice interacting with students, consider what they can say and develop their comfort and competence.
Currently, UCI offers training on suicide prevention, helping struggling students, and integrating well-being concepts into learning environments.
Strategies for talking about mental health
Five creative ways faculty and staff can promote conversations around student wellness and stress include:
- Mental health days and reflective exercises create built-in downtime for learners to invest in self-care.
- Mindful writing exercises can help students who struggle with negative self-talk think critically about their interests and how to invest in themselves.
- Academic programs focused on student health and flourishing provide a natural forum for discussions around mental health resources.
- A brief poll provided at the beginning of the course allows instructors to gain insight into students’ mental health throughout the semester and create space for problem-solving.
- Course syllabuses serve as resource guides and demonstrate professors’ care and respect for their students.
expand: The institution has added new mental health first aid training, offered exclusively to faculty and staff, to help them recognize and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Since 2021, UCI has trained 21 Mental Health First Aid instructors; instructors provide twice-monthly virtual training to up to 30 community members who wish to become certified.
Approximately 700 faculty and staff across UCI units and divisions have completed the training, and many more have completed the shorter one-hour overview, providing practical takeaways for those unable to devote a full day to certification.
The university’s Teaching Excellence and Innovation department hired teaching wellness specialist Theresa Duong in 2022 to train teachers and instructors to create classroom environments that prioritize wellness.
“Normally these questions about teaching wellness might default to my office; she’s really just focused on what teachers do,” Sherabbi said. “It creates a new channel for my office, a new Recommended sources…I can send them to Theresa to help them work through some solutions in class. ”
The university will also launch an Educational Wellness Institute this spring to help faculty and graduate students integrate wellness elements into their courses.
If your student success program has unique features or changes, we’d love to know about it. Click here to submit.