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.”
This ‘Mentally Healthy’ blog project is an effort towards that end specifically targeting UP faculty and academic staff. Faculty are critical points of contact for UP students, and while the student affairs side of the University offers many excellent resources to address student mental health we on the academic side sometimes operate in isolation. So what might faculty and academic staff need to know in our efforts to truly educate the whole person?
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.
Second, know that student mental health is a critical issue across higher education and information is available to help faculty better know what they can do to help. This project is an effort to tailor some of that information to the specific context of UP. The model for this is a very useful handbook that Cornell University published in 2009 titled Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress (which no longer seems available on-line), which was more recently updated by the University of California system for their faculty as a publicly available resource titled: Promoting Student Mental Health — A Guide for UC Faculty and Staff. The plan is to build off that table of contents to produce material (linked on this page) that can live and evolve as an on-line document housed here on the Teaching & Learning Community Blog.