Higher Education

Supporting Student Mental Health & Wellness

A panel discussion on how faculty can help students facing mental health challenges navigate resources and find support for health and academic wellness

Three higher ed leaders share insights on how faculty can help students facing mental health challenges navigate resources and find support for health and academic wellness.

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Karenna Glover (00:00):

Well, hello everyone, and welcome to this webinar on such an important and relevant topic, supporting student mental health and wellness. We are so glad that you are attending today and hope that you engage with us in this important discussion.

Karenna Glover (00:18):

My name is Karenna Glover and I’m with GoReact. We are the host of this event, but the real stars of the show are our three panelists here that we are very, very grateful for giving up their time and providing such insights and just a wealth of knowledge and expertise today. So thank you for our panelists today, and thank you all for attending.

Karenna Glover (00:44):

Before I hand it over to them to introduce themselves, I have just a couple points of housekeeping. First off, just so you know, we are recording this presentation. So if you have to hop off or you want to share it with a colleague, we will be sending it by email. So be on the lookout for that.

Karenna Glover (01:04):

Also, today is a slide free presentation. So this is all about the conversation and the discussion around this topic. And we certainly want all of our attendees to join in that conversation. So please use the Q and A function within Zoom to ask your questions. We’ll be saving some time at the end to pitch those questions over to our panelists. So please, throughout the presentation, use the Q and A function. You can certainly up vote the popular questions that you really want answered today, but we encourage your engagement. We’ll also be running some polls and also appreciate you participating in that.

Karenna Glover (01:48):

You will also see a chat function on the side of your screen, and that is for any technical questions that you might have. We have Jordan from our team behind the scenes, thanks Jordan for being with us, and he will be able to answer any of your questions in the chat. But really, use the Q and A for our panelist questions.

Karenna Glover (02:10):

So thank you all for being here today. And with that, I will turn it over to each of our panelists and we will go ahead and start with Michael today. Michael, can you share some information about yourself?

Michael Gerard Mason (02:25):

All right. Thank you. So glad to be here with all of you. My name is Michael Gerard Mason, and I am currently the interim dean here in the Office of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia. And I am happy, proud to say that I’ve been thinking now well over 20 years about this particular issue, as it relates to students of color and particularly Black students, as they embark on this very important journey of learning. So I’m excited to be here and hope that it’s helpful to you all. Thanks.

Karenna Glover (03:02):

Excellent. Thank you, Michael. And up next, we’ll have Susie.

Susanna Gallor (03:09):

Hi everyone. I’m Susie Gallor, also my name, as it says there, Susanna. I am a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. I’m also a clinical supervisor within the clinical psychology doctoral program at our university. And for the first several years of my career, I worked primarily as a clinician and therapist in university mental health. So I worked at various universities as a staff psychologist, and was very much obviously integrated in that setting and learned a lot about just the system in general, university mental health supports outside of clinical work, including what supports are available across a university campus, not just within a counseling center or a mental health service. So that’s been a really big part of my professional work.

Susanna Gallor (04:18):

And then when I transitioned to more of an academic position, I’ve maintained that focus and train my graduate students to work in university systems and providing health and wellness resources for university students with a particular focus on cultural responsiveness and sensitivity.

Susanna Gallor (04:43):

So I teach psych courses and I teach graduate psych courses, but I also continue to supervise and provide mental health supports and services across college campuses. There’s a lot of systems that work together and I’m really excited to be part of this panel. Thank you for having me and it’s nice to meet everyone.

Karenna Glover (05:05):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Susie, for joining us today. And last, but certainly not least, Marty.

Marty Martin (05:13):

Yeah, so I’m Marty Martin from DePaul University in Chicago. So I teach in a business school, but I don’t have an MBA nor a PhD in management or operations or finance, but I’m trained as a clinical psychologist. And similar to Susie, started off actually in a college counseling center, in a wellness program, and also an employee assistance program in universities, and then gradually continued to practice clinical psychology. Then I moved into HR roles. So in HR roles, responsible for employee assistance programs, occupational safety and health and work site wellness programs.

Marty Martin (05:50):

So my background’s pretty eclectic, but the core theme really is focused on, not just the mental health of students, but also the mental health of employees be they faculty members or be they staff as well, because I think you can focus on student mental health for sure, but you also have to focus on faculty mental health, as well as the mental health of staff, and you have to talk about leadership as well. So I’m certainly delighted to be here.

Karenna Glover (06:17):

Excellent. Thank you, Marty. Yes, it’s important to take care of those who are taking care of the students. So we’ll certainly touch on that in today’s presentation.

Karenna Glover (06:28):

Well, thank you. Thanks again to our panelists. And to kick things off, we do have a couple poll questions. So the first question, do you know what mental health support services are available on campus? Give you just a little bit of time to answer that. All right, so the results indicate that most of our attendees are aware of the support services that are available on campus, so that’s excellent. We have about 14% who are not aware, but the majority are aware, so that’s great. Hopefully today you gain some ideas on putting students in touch with those services and helping them navigate some of those services. So that’s great. Thank you for your participation in that question.

Karenna Glover (07:39):

And up next, we have another poll question. Are you comfortable offering mental health support to a student? Yes or no. All right, and here are the results. Pretty split here. So most of us say yes, but 45% say no. So I think that is the core of why we’re all here today to gain some comfort and some confidence and some knowledge about helping our students and being able to provide that support. So thank you for your participation. That’s great information going into our discussion.

Karenna Glover (08:33):

All right, so to kick things off, what we’re going to do is spend the next 20, 25 minutes round robining some questions with the panelists. I will start by directing it to a particular panelist, but just a reminder to all three of you, please chime in and be as responsive as you can be. And then once we wrap up these questions, we’ll take the questions from our attendees. So just a reminder to attendees, anybody who might have joined late, please drop your questions in the Q and A.

Karenna Glover (09:09):

Alrighty, so first question, I’ll send over to you Susie, so we can start off talking about some of the barriers and the stigmas that students face. Knowing that you’ve had some experience working in mental health centers on campus, can you talk about what some of those stigmas and barriers are that students face and maybe why they’re reluctant to seek support?

Susanna Gallor (09:37):

Yeah, thank you so much. And I think you just named one of those mental health stigma being a huge barrier. And when I say stigma, I think there’s different types of stigma. There’s more societal stigma around acknowledging, talking about, certainly responding to mental illness, mental health, the language we use to talk about those two sides of the same coin I think, the bias that’s inherent in our system in general, in our society in general. And that of course is a huge barrier right off the bat.

Susanna Gallor (10:23):

But then I think different communities, different social groups, experience other and more unique kinds of bias and stigma, even just recognizing that someone might be struggling, whether it’s academically and, or socio emotionally. So that’s one sort of foundation or umbrella barrier, and then what that can contribute to is lack of awareness of what is available to folks, what’s appropriate, what’s necessary.

Susanna Gallor (11:04):

For example, just the act of going to a counseling center, a college counseling center does not mean that one has mental illness or is crazy. It could just be to talk about adjusting to college or being away from home for the first time or being a first generation college student, or feeling like you don’t fit in. And that’s a perfectly acceptable and predominant reason to talk to a counselor.

Susanna Gallor (11:34):

So that’s something to get past, and I think it’s beyond just the college mental health service or counseling center to address that and to decrease that stigma. That has to be something that the whole university community is open about and comfortable with, including faculty.

Susanna Gallor (11:51):

I was so happy to see that many folks are aware of what services are available to students. Talking about those services obviously is harder. Even just saying, hey, do you know about the counseling center? Do you know about our other sort of supports, academic but also social supports on campus? That’s a different step that’s harder to take. So I hope that we can talk about that and we will in the rest of the panel.

Susanna Gallor (12:23):

So I think those cultural, linguistic barriers, those are really present and something that college counseling centers themselves need to address. That’s more unique to the college counseling center specifically. There’s bias and inequity within the mental healthcare system generally, and certainly within university mental health services.

Susanna Gallor (12:47):

So having the resources and the support to learn themselves about who their student community is, who they’re meeting the needs of and who they’re not meeting the needs of, who they’re accessible to and who they’re not accessible to. The university needs to support mental health services to learn and improve in those ways.

Susanna Gallor (13:15):

And so I think it’s a systemic process and it requires everyone from leaders, leadership on campus down to certainly the counseling center or mental health service and the staff there. And then of course, the nitty gritty of a university life, of university community, the students, the faculty, the staff who interact and engage with each other every day and having more conversations about this.

Susanna Gallor (13:49):

So that’s where we’re going, I think today, but those are the biggest barriers that come to mind for me, and from my perspective, and I think the more we talk about it, the easier it will be to talk about it.

Karenna Glover (14:05):

Excellent. Marty, Michael, anything you want to add to what Susie has shared?

Marty Martin (14:12):

I guess one thing that I thought about that she really echoed is you want to normalize the conversations. So although they may be a little bit uncomfortable, then sit with the discomfort and normalize it and position it as a support and a resource and as a tool, and she listed a whole variety of tools.

Marty Martin (14:29):

And for some of you, you may actually want to script it out a little bit, if it makes you feel better or say it out loud, just to get practice with it, or share it with a colleague and say, I’m thinking about making this suggestion for the student, what do you think? Or you can contact maybe a university counseling center or maybe a wellness program, they may have some suggested language and they may help you.

Karenna Glover (14:53):

Excellent. Michael, anything you want to add to?

Michael Gerard Mason (15:00):

No, I think this is very well covered. I think one point that may come up later in the webinar is the thought that for the majority of our existence as counseling center staff and administrators, we’ve really, as Susanna says, we’ve practiced a very traditional form of mental health delivery. And I think what we’re learning now is there are all sorts of ways that helping manifest culturally, that don’t necessarily easily align with that model of people crossing a physical threshold to get the service.

Michael Gerard Mason (15:41):

And I think over the course of the next 5, 10, 15 years, we’re going to see a drastic shift in the ways that we’re imagining or envisioning mental health service delivery on all of these college campuses. And I think that’s going to be well received because not everybody seeks help or receives help the same, and we have to not pathologize those unique ways of being helped and giving help. And I think we’re getting better at that as counseling centers.

Susanna Gallor (16:15):

If I can just piggyback on that, and it’s related to the first question I see in the Q and A. I know we’re going to get to that, but this seems really relevant right now. One attendee just said, “I think my concern is how long students need to wait to receive mental health service.” And I think that speaks to what Michael was just sharing.

Susanna Gallor (16:34):

If we continue on the path of these traditional, you come to a college counseling center and wait for services to be available to you in this very traditional format, this is what we have seen, just grow exponentially over the past 10 or 15 years, if not longer, longer wait times, less access and counseling center staff not having the resources and support from the university to keep up with that.

Susanna Gallor (17:05):

And it’s not that students necessarily are experiencing more and more mental illness or mental health concerns, it’s that more students are willing to go and get some help. So that’s a good thing, but we’re not keeping up with it and we need to think outside the box. And there’s so many more spaces and people on campus who can provide that kind of support. It doesn’t have to be in a traditional college mental health center. There’s a place for that, and I’m not suggesting we move away from that completely, but that’s one place.

Susanna Gallor (17:37):

So I just wanted to speak to that. That’s a real concern. I hear you on that. That wait time is going to continue to be a problem unless we look at other ways to support students outside of a traditional mental health setting.

Karenna Glover (17:52):

Excellent. That’s great. Great insight. And it sounds like our goal is to open up conversations and just an understanding across all levels of academia to address this and help provide that support to students, so great insight.

Karenna Glover (18:12):

All right, our next question, I’ll kick over to Marty. So the goal of all of us as attendees is to really provide academic guidance and support to our students. So when they’re challenged with mental health challenges, how do we continue to guide them from an academic standpoint? And I guess the second part of the question is how do we prepare them, post-college, to succeed from a mental health wellness perspective in whatever career or job or whatever path they follow? How do we really build that foundation in college and help them get off to a good start?

Marty Martin (19:01):

So let me start with the first one. So if you are teaching a class or maybe you’re advising a student, so you’re in the role of a faculty member, you’re in the role of an advisor, or you could be in the role of a staff member and you have interactions with the student, they come by the department every now and then. So you’re not in the role of a counseling center, so I really want you to think about three ways for you to really think about your interactions with these students.

Marty Martin (19:28):

One is what I would call a whole person approach, and I’m going to come back to that in a moment. The second is to hold what’s called unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard, and I’m going to come back to that in a moment. And the third point is challenge their perfectionistic tendencies and also challenge their I can’t do it tendencies, and there’s tendencies in between.

Marty Martin (19:50):

So let me go back to the whole person approach, you could be a faculty member, could be an advisor, you could be a staff member, is really trying to remember is academic success is more than a GPA. Academic success is more than a score that you got and it cannot be fully captured by the rubric, in how well someone did with the rubric.

Marty Martin (20:11):

So what you really want to do is focus on is the process of learning and the process of growth, particularly for the undergraduates, because for the undergraduates, it’s more than just intellectual development, it’s holistic development. And even too, if you have adult students, we’re continually developing. So you really want to think about, I have this whole person in front of me and not just functioning on, I have to teach them calculus, period, that has nothing to do with anything else.

Marty Martin (20:40):

So some more concrete strategies is offer feedback. So the feedback is more than just marking the assignment. And then in general, our society’s moving towards individualized and personalized feedback. So really talk about the process by which they approach the assignment, did the assignment. And if indeed their grade is less than what they think it is, then in a lot of cases, what I will do is help them well, help me understand what would be the difference between a 97 and a 98 and explore those conversations.

Marty Martin (21:16):

So again, I think it’s very important is you have a whole person approach, because when you have that, what you will find is, is that many students may share more of themselves. But I recognize the concern is I’m going to open up the Pandora’s box.

Marty Martin (21:29):

The second is unconditional positive regard. So really have the belief, unless you have evidence to the contrary that they are committed, they are capable, they are competent. So you really want to hold them in high regard. And I would be very careful about stereotypes. It’s like, oh, they came from that high school or that university, or they came from that zip code, or they look like that, or like Marty, they talk with a Southern accent. So be very mindful of some biases that we may have. We may set low expectations.

Marty Martin (22:04):

And again, that final one is challenge those perfectionistic tendencies that they may have or those tendencies that I don’t make it. So I think those are important things to keep in mind, faculty member, staff member, advisor.

Marty Martin (22:18):

So to Karenna’s second point. So if you really think about things from an employer perspective, what do employers want? So I want to hire somebody that has the knowledge, they have the skills, they have the latest techniques, they’ve got the toolkit, but is that it? No.

Marty Martin (22:34):

I also want to hire someone that can identify stress and manage stress. I want to hire someone that has good interpersonal skills. I want to hire someone that has tolerance to frustration. I want to have to hire someone that has tolerance to ambiguity. I want to hire someone that is more proactive and has initiative than not. I want to hire someone that can deal with disappointment.

Marty Martin (22:55):

So when you really think about it, it goes back to that whole person approach. So that goes beyond the syllabus. Now a lot of my work has been in medical schools and in medical schools, they call those other qualities, the hidden curriculum. So I think we need to make the hidden curriculum, the visible curriculum. And then that’s something that we can all do as individual faculty members, advisors, or staff, but we don’t necessarily have to ask for somebody’s permission to do that. So I’ll pause there.

Karenna Glover (23:28):

Excellent. Thank you for that. Susie, Michael, is there anything you want to add to that question?

Susanna Gallor (23:38):

I’d just like to add, I think Marty really spoke to, really clearly, a lot of things you can do in whatever role you are, whatever position you are to support your students, but also remember that you’re not alone. And again, there are so many different, I mean every college campus and university is different, but there’s so many other offices and supports and spaces and people that I think a lot of folks work in silos, a lot of offices work in silos across a college campus and that’s really unfortunate.

Susanna Gallor (24:22):

So learn about, and become familiar with resources on your campus from library services, to career services, leadership opportunities for students, academic and career organizations and clubs that students can get involved with. And then inform your students and encourage them to seek those out and to integrate and maybe even integrate that into your own, like a class activity or assignment or take a field trip.

Susanna Gallor (24:54):

Again, it’s that normalizing, like of course you don’t have this all figured out, you shouldn’t. That’s why you’re here and that’s why we have all these people, including myself who are here to support you and to help you figure it out. You don’t have to do this alone. I don’t have to do this alone. So I just wanted to add that piece to what you can do in your own role and in your own relationships with your students.

Marty Martin (25:18):

And that’s a great point because I’ve had members of the counseling center and come do 20, 30 minutes on stress management, maybe a couple weeks before midterms or the finals, just like I would have someone come from the career center and could you do 20, 30 minutes on interviewing. So it goes back to this is just a resource that we have.

Michael Gerard Mason (25:36):

And I’ll jump in. I think this is all so important. I want to stress a couple of thoughts. If we go back to that first poll in this particular audience, I think it was about 80% of people reported that they are aware of resources that are existing on their campuses. One thing that is interesting as it emerges is right now, I think on any given campus, anywhere between 30 and 40% of students report not knowing. So that’s important, just being able to point students in a direction of resources is tremendously helpful. Stigma aside, all of the other things that we’ve talked about aside, just knowing that there are resources is actually a tremendous opportunity to improve things. So I would say you can start with that.

Michael Gerard Mason (26:31):

Another thing that I’ll add that I do here in my own work and maybe even nationally is I understand that companies have made a significant shift away from this idea of individualism to team. So what they are looking for is students who can amplify the strengths of others around them, leverage the teams to become better producers. And that’s important where I think so far in the past we’ve been able to hire people who are exemplary or exceptional, but that’s not enough anymore. We need to have evidence of being able to be in teams. So I think those are two things that are really probably great places to start.

Michael Gerard Mason (27:24):

So as a professor, incorporate real teamwork, not just group assignments, and I’m a professor too, that defaults into one or two strong students carrying the less strong students. A true team based curriculum is probably going to be very useful.

Michael Gerard Mason (27:43):

The last point I’ll add, and it’ll probably come up later in this webinar, I think one of the things that we’re doing, we’re using the language of mental health and in some ways as a euphemism for mental illness diagnosis. And when I’m talking with lay people, I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this earlier, I am a therapist by training also, one of the things that I try to talk about when I’m talking with family and lay people, is that the diagnosis as exciting and sexy as things like schizophrenia is, or all of this, really what we’re talking about is duration, right? How long has a student been experiencing X? So depression is simply put sadness fatigue over time. Not that I was sad today, but I’ve been sad a long time.

Michael Gerard Mason (28:41):

So one of the things that I think faculty can do to be helpful to us, it start to become attuned to changes in mood early because by the time it becomes a mental health thing, it has already been developmentally something, right? So just checking in with students about how you feeling about this work, how you feeling about being here, and start to get a sense of if students are not feeling great and they don’t feel great over time, maybe that’s starting to be something rather than go through 5, 6, 7 professors, and now it’s entrenched and become something that needs to be in front of us.

Michael Gerard Mason (29:24):

So you don’t have to always think that you intervene at point of diagnostic criteria, but you can just do the developmental work of making sure that students feel good, feel engaged, feel seen because that’s going to ward off lots of things. That’ll cut off lots of things. So just think about that, that you can, we can, universities should be intervening much earlier.

Michael Gerard Mason (29:53):

Now, I think one of the difficulties that we all probably can acknowledge is that given, even prior to the pandemic, because of our efforts to make access to education equitable, we are now receiving more students who have long passed that developmental point. And I think that’s what’s tricky that we’re having students coming into universities who already have largely met diagnostic criteria for one of these things.

Michael Gerard Mason (30:23):

But in practice, if you can think about early responding to simple things like students are ambivalent about the content, students don’t look like they’re able to engage their peers, those things will start to help us identify the things that become the depression, the anxieties, the isolations much earlier than they actually become in the students.

Karenna Glover (30:47):

That’s great. Thanks for sharing that, Michael. It actually answers one of the questions that we got from an attendee with how to identify that a student is struggling. And I think you kind of nailed it there. So we can circle back if anybody else has some suggestions in that area, but we’ll keep moving along our questions.

Karenna Glover (31:09):

So back to you, Michael, actually. What are some unique challenges that students of color or really any underrepresented population face in higher ed and what can faculty do to engage them and improve their experience and what resources are required in order to do that?

Michael Gerard Mason (31:33):

My, those are some big questions. I want to start by saying a couple of things. One, I appreciate the way the question is framed because it asks the question assuming some point of reality, that there are differential experiences for students in higher ed. I think that’s the starting place for all of this.

Michael Gerard Mason (31:59):

And with that said I also want to put out a caveat that each of our campuses are quite different, so what I’m going to talk about here for a couple of minutes, or maybe a minute or two is national stories. It may not be specific to your campus, but I would suspect these are true nationally.

Michael Gerard Mason (32:22):

So with that said, I think the first point that I’ll start with, as it relates to difficulties are students of color as a whole are less likely to graduate than non students of color. That’s important. So they continue to struggle across the country, staying enrolled from semester to semester, they have higher rates of dropping out or stopping out.

Michael Gerard Mason (32:49):

And one of the things that’s emerging now is that they have the highest borrowing rates and largest debt burdens of most students, specifically Blacks in this case. And that’s something to think about, right? If faculty are aware that we are facing things and this particular class means a lot to students, it may mean escapes from communities, escapes from cycles of things, the learning process is very important and to some degree sacred. So I think that’s something to know.

Michael Gerard Mason (33:23):

Black graduates, even when they finish are more likely to have a higher rate of unemployment. The gender gap, especially for Black students is real where two out of three college students are actually Black women, not Black men. One thing that we’re probably looking at, but not really looking at is that students of color are more likely to encounter people who look like them in service jobs rather than faculty, staff, or administration, where the population in those domains are largely about 75% White and many of those White men. So that’s something to be thinking about. We don’t necessarily name these things, but they have a real impact on learning.

Michael Gerard Mason (34:13):

And then the stuff that we really think about, and we know about a lot is that students of color are more likely to experience most of the isms, so racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, cyber bullying, microaggression. They’re more likely to experience those things while at campus or even in the college towns themselves, and those things have a cumulative effect on the capacity to learn.

Michael Gerard Mason (34:39):

And I think it would be well for professors just to name those things on the onset to say that our students of color are probably bringing in some diminished capacity for attention, concentration, focus, and they may have real world things. For instance, I think students of color are more likely to have to work while in college, right? These are things that we don’t think about because for many of us as professors, we have the luxury of just saying, hey, get the content, perform the content without necessarily considering these real world things.

Michael Gerard Mason (35:14):

And I think the other part of it is that because of all of the things that I’ve already said, students of color are more likely to report higher rates of loneliness, emotional stress, all of the diagnostic criteria, and even now hopelessness, which I think is real. And in students of color, it’s least likely to be diagnosed or identified as students that are not students of color. So I think those things are important.

Michael Gerard Mason (35:44):

For me, I think I try to keep what faculty can do simple. The start of it is to say, start within what you consider to be your wheelhouse, which is the curriculum, the syllabus. Start to make sure that the syllabus is actually acknowledging that there are humans who will fluctuate in their capacity to be available. That is really important. And then just start to get to know your students because that knowing allows for you to begin to see when there are fluctuations in their baseline. And I think that’s really helpful to us.

Michael Gerard Mason (36:19):

And then the other is just really become aware of resources for yourself and for students, because the more likely you are to be able to recognize something and give it to where it goes, refer it to where it should go, the better off everybody will be.

Michael Gerard Mason (36:36):

And then that last part is one of the things that I’m very clear about, and I think that this is also emerging nationally, is that I do think there is a wonderful conversation happening as research emerges around peer support and training students to begin to do the good work, the meaningful work better that they already do.

Michael Gerard Mason (36:59):

We already know that the vast majority of students are actually doing first responding for universities. So we should be training them, so that that first response is better. And we also know, just like in this audience, I think this was actually hopeful, optimistic that 55% said that they feel great responding to a mental health issue. What I know nationally is that it’s actually less than that, where most faculty feel overwhelmed responding to things that they consider to be mental health.

Michael Gerard Mason (37:31):

So I think training faculty to begin to recognize emotional and social and academic distress and begin to hold the things that are developmentally appropriate for the professors, but then also refer out to the resources that exist on campus for more specialized service. That was a long response.

Karenna Glover (37:50):

No, that’s terrific. Thank you. Marty or Susie, do you want to add anything to Michael’s answer?

Marty Martin (37:58):

Just, I think really echo the point he said about getting to know them. And let’s imagine you’re teaching an online course, with the learning analytics you can determine how many times people have engaged, when they engaged. So maybe you work with your IT or instructional designers to push some of that information to you, so it’s a little bit easier. Or if it’s actually face to face, in person as well, is just, are they coming in a little bit later? How do they sit? Where are they sitting? What do they look like?

Marty Martin (38:25):

So again, and you don’t necessarily have to go in and say, oh, I think this is what’s wrong with you, is I just noticed that you weren’t here last week, how’s everything going? So just share what you notice, share what you observe and then ask a question. But when you ask the question is make sure that you’re available to hear the answer rather than ask the question, oh, I got to go in like two minutes, and walk out the room.

Susanna Gallor (38:50):

Yeah, I think that’s great. I can’t think of a whole lot more to add, but I do want to offer one specific tangible resource that a lot of college campuses have that you might do some research and see if your campus has anything like this. It’s called Mental Health First Aid training. And it could be just a helpful thing to participate in.

Susanna Gallor (39:16):

So you learn some of those more immediate kinds of things you can say and do, if a student does approach you with some concerns, or you noticed a shift in student behavior or attendance. So I think those were all really good points, and that’s one thing, a tangible training that you might be able to participate in, because I think that discomfort that Michael spoke to that faculty feel, and I see it in many of the questions in the Q and A, I don’t want to step outside of the instructor role, how do you respond to a student who’s struggling, again, that stigma follows us, all of us.

Susanna Gallor (40:03):

And I’m a psychologist, I was a therapist, I mean, this is part of my daily professional role. So as an instructor, that was an easy transition for me, but that’s not the case for the majority of instructors, and so I can appreciate that discomfort. I just wanted to reinforce that you’re not expected to be a mental health professional. I hope that’s not a take home message.

Susanna Gallor (40:35):

You don’t have to step outside that instructor role too much, but what does it mean to be an instructor? What are you to these students? Are you more than just teaching them academic material, or do you want them to know that if they are feeling uncomfortable, if they are struggling, they can just at least come tell you and you will point them in the right direction, and that that’s normalized from the start, as Michael said, in your syllabus. You can just put a statement, just, I know we all struggle, we experience different things, please let me know and I will try to help you to whatever extent I can.

Susanna Gallor (41:14):

So just I guess I wanted to speak to that discomfort and that fear, I think that a lot of faculty struggle with, and administrators and leaders on campus. And you don’t have to be a mental health professional to respond to a mental health concern or a student that you’re worried about.

Marty Martin (41:32):

And I want to go back to what Susie said about the syllabus as well as Michael. So I have boilerplate statements, like plagiarism in the tutoring center, in the writing center and the wellness center, and then also the counseling center. So it’s there and it normalizes it. It makes it easy, you can say, you may not have seen it in the syllabus, at the counseling center there, that may be a great resource. So this is how you can reach out to them. If you need any help with that, let me know, I’d be more than happy to help you.

Karenna Glover (42:03):

Great. Thank you. Great, great tips. So I have one more question and then we’ll take a look at the ones that attendees have asked, but I think what we just discussed is a good segue to this last question. And I’ll start with Marty. So how can schools create a culture of mental wellness for not only students, but faculty? It sounds like it’s a sense of, there’s a lot of responsibility for faculty and how can they feel supported and what can schools do to provide that support?

Marty Martin (42:40):

Okay. Yeah. So it’s a great question, because all of us are living and working and learning and playing in this ecosystem. So first let me define culture from an organizational point of view, it’s the way we do things around here. So let’s say you work for a big university. So the big university has its culture, but also look within a particular college or school and also within a department because those are micro cultures. So you can have more of an impact in a micro culture than you can within the big system.

Marty Martin (43:10):

So I think there’re really a number of things that can be done, but here’s the reality. So we’ve talked a little bit about the epidemiology of student mental health with regard to maybe a 30% prevalence rate for diagnosable mental illnesses among students. For the workforce, it’s about 25%, it’s one in four. And if you’re a faculty member, that doesn’t mean that you’re immune because you’re a faculty member.

Marty Martin (43:37):

So imagine this scenario. On any given campus, one out of three students may have a diagnosable mental disorder and one out of four employees. So that’s why I said, and they’re interacting. So it’s extremely important that we do a both and, and not a either or. So what can be done?

Marty Martin (43:54):

First, I think there needs to be leadership commitment. In a lot of cases, there’s the commitment, but there’s not the communication. So that is talking heads getting out there, more than just press releases, more than just tweets, more than just blogs, but actually out there. The other is leverage university resources that exist.

Marty Martin (44:14):

And then we talk a little bit about under resourcing. So make sure those resources are budgeted with what I call time, talent and treasure. And then Susie talked a bit about counseling centers. So there’s some underfunding with regard to the time, the talent and the treasure. So I think we really have to be real about making sure we put in those investments.

Marty Martin (44:37):

The other is make sure too that we really emphasize training. So it could be mental health first training, it could also be stress management training, it could be wellness, whatever the training happens to be. But do it in such a way is that people don’t have to do it over their lunch, so they’re making a choice, do I eat or do I go to training? Or, oh, you can do it, but you have to come in a half an hour earlier or a half an hour later. You’re not incentivizing them to do it. So make sure it’s seen as real work and not something that’s ancillary as an elective.

Marty Martin (45:12):

And maybe even consider adding courses, depending upon your discipline. So say for example, like in a business school, we have a course stress, sleep and performance, at least for all business students. So again, you could think about making sure you have a credit bearing course because credit bearing is the currency in academia. And usually there’s a lot of fights about something that’s for credit.

Marty Martin (45:35):

And the last one I would say for faculty and staff is look at the way jobs are designed because since the pandemic, the nature of work has changed. With more remote working, with more online instruction, the workflows are changing. So if you have a poorly designed job and you put someone in that poorly designed job for a long period of time, they’re going to show symptoms. It’s not the person, the job is poorly designed, because you didn’t think through the occupational mental health implications or even the physical implications of that job.

Marty Martin (46:10):

Just if you think about ergonomics and chairs, if I have a poorly designed chair and I’m sitting in that chair 10 hours a day, 10 years later, I’m going to have some muscular skeletal problems. So the same thing happens with the culture, happens with how we outfit things. So I think those are some tangible things that we can do. So we’re not saying either student mental health or faculty mental health, it’s both and.

Karenna Glover (46:36):

Excellent. Susie, Michael, anything to add?

Michael Gerard Mason (46:44):

I think that’s great.

Karenna Glover (46:47):

All right. So to move into the questions from our attendees, I think our panelists have probably had a little preview of these, but I’m going to start with, would you have these conversations on the first day of nursing school, or we can apply it across any discipline? Would you have these conversations on the first day? Who wants to start that answer?

Susanna Gallor (47:16):

I mean, I think we all spoke to this in some capacity as far as the syllabus, which is a sort of starting point with students at the start of the semester. I’m not sure how. I mean, it really depends on how you use your syllabus. I do try to focus a lot on the syllabus as an interactive kind of experience and part of the first class, not so much a contract.

Susanna Gallor (47:47):

But I spend a lot of time going through my syllabus and I have these mental health statements. I have statements about having basic needs insecurities. And if that’s the case, again, just trying to put it out there that I’m just an invitation, that I don’t know if I’ll be able to help, but that I understand these things do happen and that these things are part of a lot of our students’ lives, and I can be someone that you can at least come to and I will try to help connect you. I will try to help you figure out how to get the support that you need. I know about different things on campus you might not know about and that’s it.

Susanna Gallor (48:29):

So I think the syllabus could be a good way, at least to invite that conversation. And I sometimes have a quiz or something like a live poll about things that are in the syllabus to see like, okay, what do you remember from the syllabus that we just went over? And I try to engage them to just talk about the syllabus and that’s it. So that’s one thing I do that I think is a starting point for that conversation.

Karenna Glover (49:01):

Excellent. Marty?

Marty Martin (49:05):

So we’re on a quarter system, so we’re 10 weeks, but if it’s compressed to five or compressed to two, not only during the introductory lecture, if it’s face to face or if it’s an online announcement, I let them know, this is going to be very rapid pace, we’re going to go very quickly. So please make sure that you plan out your time, you organize things. Reach out to me as soon as you get the first inkling that you may be struggling, going back to Michael’s point. So I let them know in advance is this is what you’ve signed up for and these are all the supports

Michael Gerard Mason (49:38):

And I’ll echo my colleagues. I definitely think in my own practice of teaching, definitely, because one of the things that I think is really important to me as we begin to commit to one another to learn with each other, I think it’s important that we start at the human level to say we are all in this together and we are going to be human together, which includes all of the other stuff, right?

Michael Gerard Mason (50:07):

Because I’m not interested in living in the facade that everybody’s brilliant, everybody’s always brilliant, everybody’s always performing brilliantly. If we don’t address it early, you know that there will be times where we have to carry one another. I think we start to give in and collude with some of these fantasies our students bring into the classroom. So I definitely start right away.

Michael Gerard Mason (50:34):

The second is if I just speak specifically about what we do here at UVA, in University of Virginia, we’re really invested in problem solving because what we know is every problem a student has to solve on their own is actually going to be amplified because they’re going to be relying on peers to help them. So for us, we try to resolve the things that we can resolve and then extend resources on the things that just take working through.

Michael Gerard Mason (51:07):

And I think that’s something to talk about as a faculty member to say, I’m in the business of learning and the better you feel, the more adjusted you are, the more you feel belonging, the more likely you are to do what I need you to do. So I’m invested in that, and here are the ways that I’ll be checking in, and here are the ways that my colleagues and the university will help me make sure that you get the best out of this class. And I also do that on the first day of class as well.

Karenna Glover (51:39):

Excellent. And that’s a good segue to our next question. So do you think we’re placing too much emphasis on looking like successful role models, mentors and professionals? Is there too much emphasis on the visible? And what about thinking in similar ways, communicating in similar ways, acting in similar ways? Anybody want to take that one?

Marty Martin (52:05):

Yeah, I think part of being a role model, it’s the way that you’re comfortable is sharing your vulnerabilities, sharing your stressors, sharing your frustrations, because that is part of the human experience. And again, it depends upon your level of self disclosure. So I think you can be a role model, but to Michael’s point is you may not be the brilliant role model all the time. There are pieces of you that may be, quote-unquote, “flawed” and that’s okay, and may even talk about how do you cope with that and how you deal with that.

Susanna Gallor (52:42):

Well, I do think that we are more than just any one of our identities, including our racial identity, but that is what we are and that’s how people know what to do with us, how to interact with us, whether or not to trust us. So I think it’s actually really important to focus on those differences and not because one is better than the other, or one has certain struggles that the other one doesn’t have, that’s not really the way that I think it’s really important and valuable to emphasize and talk about our shared values and interests and commonalities and how we can communicate in similar ways and think about things similarly, for sure, but also how we bring so much to each other as a learning community.

Susanna Gallor (53:49):

And I learn from my students all the time. I learned from my clients when I was a therapist all the time, and I’m very explicit and transparent about that. And I think that helps them feel like I’m treating them like individuals, like humans, like adults and they respond in kind. And so I just think it establishes a real culture of respect and curiosity that I think is really important, especially in an educational context. And the research supports that focusing on diversity is actually really good and it’s really bad to do the opposite, to pretend it’s not there.

Michael Gerard Mason (54:35):

And I’ll jump in and add. Thank you, Susanna. I think I’ll add a couple of thoughts and the first is a thought and I’m trying to think of how to word it. I am not my problems and my problems are real. That’s important. And in some ways I am more than, and I think there is a conversation about are we more than what people perceive. Absolutely. And that’s true in many ways.

Michael Gerard Mason (55:13):

And the things that we’re describing are very real impact and implications for students of color, absent of whatever meaning they’re ascribing to their identities, the salient aspects of themselves. The reality is there are certain experiences that we know are true. So I think that’s the start of it.

Michael Gerard Mason (55:36):

The second is I, and I think we are definitely advocating that we begin to put in its proper light and place this truth, so that we can liberate these students from whatever it is that we’re associating with the problems they experience, because to me, I think that’s where the learning begins. That’s where the relationship development happens so that those students can have an equitable space to be able to be human and learn as best as they can, and I think that gets to the first part.

Michael Gerard Mason (56:16):

One thing that I am absolutely doing, and I think we are doing is trying to redefine or deconstruct what it meant to be a good student, because what we are realizing is that the students who are depressed are also good students, the students who are anxious and having panic attacks and passing out during exams, they are also good students. The students who are having difficulty coming to class because they have such profound social anxiety, those students are great students.

Michael Gerard Mason (56:52):

So we are trying to humanize this very difficult, but precious experience of learning for all people. And I think that’s going to take time because, I’ve been an educator a long time from K through 12 to college, we do like the kids who sit quietly. We do like the kids who raise their hands. We do like the kid who follow their syllabus to the T. We love all of that. And the further you get away from that, the more stressed I get. And still all of those students are great students and quite successful in their own ways.

Michael Gerard Mason (57:33):

So I think what we’re trying to do is create a space where we can collectively begin to liberate students from things that we’ve held them to in the past, so that they can be their best selves, whatever that may be.

Karenna Glover (57:49):

Amazing. Thank you for that perspective. And unfortunately we’re out of time. So I’m just going to close with a comment and a tip from Dana. So Dana says that learning from her students is the greatest perk of teaching. And I think that’s a great reminder, follows up on what you were saying, Michael, is that there’s so much to learn from them.

Karenna Glover (58:14):

And the other tip that she offers is, well, I guess it’s a comment, it’s important that students and teachers understand that students can be successful despite challenges, not despite challenges, but often because of challenges. I’ve seen students up their game with some discussion of what steps they can take to keep them moving towards success. And she says, thank you to Michael. So because of their challenges, it makes them more successful, I think is her point. So thank you for that comment.

Karenna Glover (58:49):

And with that, unfortunately we have to end our discussion, but this has been entirely helpful, really engaging both from the three expert panelists here and all of our attendees. Great questions. Thanks for the participation in the polls. I truly, truly appreciate Marty, Susie and Michael joining us today and just providing such great tips and insights. And hopefully just having conversations like this really moves us forward in taking care of our students. So thank you so much.

Karenna Glover (59:28):

And on behalf of GoReact, we thank everybody for joining us today, and I hope that you have a great rest of your week and a great start to your fall semester. Thank you so much.

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