It was not so long ago, back in 2015, that UP was shocked by four suicides in less than nine months: three students and one alumnus on the UP staff. Partially in response to those tragic events, through the 2015-16 academic year an Ad Hoc Panel on Mental Health convened to research and recommend ways UP could best address student mental health concerns. Many of those recommendations have been implemented, much good work has been done, and UP has been lucky not to see another spate of high-profile tragedies since 2015. Attending to student mental health, however, is an ongoing concern and there is always more to be done.
The very first recommendation from the 2015-2016 panel was to significantly improve “publicly available information and communications around mental health resources and policies.” As one effort towards that end, I’ve been using this Teaching & Learning Community Blog to share information and ideas for faculty and academic staff concerned about student mental health. While much necessary effort has been made to improve mental health resources on the student affairs side of the University, we on the academic side are the only people who inevitably interact with every University of Portland students. Not all students live in residence halls despite their excellent support networks, not all students visit the Health and Counseling Center despite their excellent resources, but all students by definition have to attend our classes. So what might faculty and academic staff need to know?
First, know that faculty and academic staff are not (and generally should not try to be) paraprofessional counselors. Almost all the best practices in helping students with mental health issues involve simply knowing the available resources and being able to refer students to ways to get professional help. At UP this often starts with the Early Alert system and/or a direct referral to the Health and Counseling Center.
In addition to those immediate resources, last year I wrote a series of 14 blog posts addressing mental health topics that might be of interest to faculty and academic staff. As a first reference point, at the start of the Spring semester I wrote a “quick primer-reminder on mental health services for students at UP” that might be useful for anyone needing practical information about what is available to students. A few other highlights from last year for the curious might include:
- Some data on how UP students seem to compare in relation to their mental health status;
- Perspectives from UP students on what they’d want faculty to know;
- Notes on the intersection of diversity, mental health, and teaching;
- A two part series on particular issues related to student-athlete mental health (part I here, part II here).
This year I’m hoping to update, adapt, and significantly supplement these posts towards the goal of producing (by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year) an on-line handbook for UP faculty and academic staff concerned about student mental health. The model for this is a very useful handbook that Cornell University published in 2009 titled Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress. The plan is to build off that table of contents to produce material relevant specifically to the University of Portland context that can live and evolve as an on-line document housed here on the Teaching & Learning Community Blog. I am very open to suggestions and/or contributions (contact me at email@example.com), but also plan to work off a preliminary table of contents in three parts:
Part I: Immediate concerns
- Ways of recognizing students in distress
- Ways of responding to students in distress
- Faculty responsibilities – including on the legal side.
Part II: Promoting well-being
- Reducing stress
- Building resilience
- Setting boundaries – balancing challenge and support
- Education and training opportunities
Part III: Student concerns
- What students want faculty and academic staff to know
- The most common mental health issues
- The most common trauma experiences
- Relationships between diversity, inclusion, and mental health
- Issues for special populations including athletes
I am also tentatively hoping for a Part IV that would comprise other campus perspectives from offices such as Health and Counseling Center, Early Alert, Residence Life, Academic Advising, Public Safety, Campus Ministry, Athletics, etc.. So please do let me know any questions or thoughts and stayed tuned into the ways faculty and academic staff can be constructive participants in helping UP be a mentally healthy place to get an education.