Before automatically turning to the counseling center for direction, consider what steps can and should be taken as a community.
“We do not need to turn every emotion into a mental health crisis.”-West Chester University pyschologist
What can you care for?
Some emotions and situations require a compassionate conversation. Tears do not equal a mental health crisis. Emotions are important to validate, but not to stigmatize. Perhaps because we aren’t as comfortable with discussing mental health or illness, perhaps because we don’t “feel qualified,” we can fall easily into “have you talked to someone?” instead of “can you talk to me?” Need ideas of how to start the conversation? You can some here.
What do you need in a given situation? Consider this: What do we manage physically on our own? A cold? Allergies? A cut?
If, as a higher education professional, we see a student who is experiencing an emotion, and the student does not seem to be in immediate danger, start with a conversation.
Practicing regular self care can reduce the stress and tension. As we decrease our stress and tension, we are better able to cope with our responsibilities and/or care for those around us. Self care can be any action that provides emotional, mental, or physical care for ourselves primarily. Popular options include exercise, meditation, reading a book for pleasure, cooking, drawing, or being outside. This is not a comprehensive list and it is important to remember while many activities can qualify as self care, they should be positive and healthy activities.
Some additional supportive materials about the connection between mental health and self care:
While we can work to increase our own knowledge, awareness, and capabilities, we can also encourage our students to be proactive and take action.
Empower students. When students know they have agency in a situation, they are more likely to participate. Whether through programming or trainings to teach students the resources on campus and how to find information, giving students the language to keep the conversation going, offering spaces to have ongoing conversations, or modeling behavior that normalizes talking about mental health and mental illness, our students can become partners in this work.
Build resiliency. When you don’t know what’s ahead, that can be stressful. And college is a time when there can often be unknowns. We must teach our students to cope and adapt to changing situations.
Bottom line: Resilient students have the skills and awareness to know when they need help and when they are capable of handling a situation on their own. This presentation offers good insight and suggestions on why and how to develop resilience.
Stress Management. With 87% of our students feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities, learning stress management techniques might be a great way to foster mental health and overall wellness on campus.
Get involved. Student organizations are a great way for students to develop not only these skills but leadership, teamwork, and programming skills as well!
Legality: We should all be striving to serve our students more effectively, but we should also know what our responsibilities are. Are there legal questions to consider?
Student Support: We don’t always hold our students accountable as a result of mental health issues out of fear, concern, or kindness. We should certainly support our students and give them opportunities, but talking about bad outcomes should be a part of the conversation. “If I’m out because of mono, there might be consequences. I might get a lower grade or have to withdraw. Sometimes you need to a take a break to be successful” says one College psychologist.
As you consider what your institution might be able to do, consider the following questions:
- Is your institution organized to support wellness?
- Is your wellness center integrated (a combined health and mental health resource to decrease stigma)?
- Does your campus have a training program focused on stress management and crisis management?
- Has your campus specifically focused on stress relief, self-love, and confidence building?
- Are your faculty encouraged to include mental health statements on their syllabi?
- Has your campus dedicated resources to preventing self-injury?