Mental health: helping our students

(This article is from the WLUFA Advocate April 2017 5.2.)

By Anne-Marie Allison, Mathematics

The recent suicides of students at nearby universities (two at UW and four at UG this academic year) are a somber reminder of the profound importance of student mental health and campus resources.

Last month at the second High Incidence Disabilities in Higher Education Conference, Hara Estroff Marano focused on the increasing prevalence of depression, anxiety, (perceived) stress, and emotional dysregulation among college and university students in her talk ‘Crisis U’. “College students in North America are reporting unprecedented levels of stress and experiencing serious symptoms of mental distress, from depression and persistent suicidal ideation to self-mutilation and panic attacks. Campus counseling centers find that problems are not only common, and growing more common by the year, but severe and growing more severe.” She, like many others, underscores the importance of addressing the student mental health crisis occurring across our campuses.

Faculty are an important point of contact for students and they require now more than ever the skills, the support and well-defined resources to assist students who may be struggling. Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization says, “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.” Faculty should be afforded collaborative assistance when they seek help on behalf of their students.

While most faculty genuinely care about their students’ well-being, institutional factors can make getting this message across to students next to impossible. Growing class sizes work against students making connections with their professors. Fewer full-time hires and the University’s ethos of ‘do more with less’ in response to the ever increasing faculty administrative load severely limits the time faculty have available to interact with students. Precariously employed Contract Faculty teach a majority of students and are often responsible for larger classes. Usually without individual offices, they lack adequate access to meeting spaces to meet with students privately. These institutional barriers can deter vulnerable students who want to reach out, no matter how approachable their professors may be.

Have you encountered situations with a student(s) where they asked for help or you thought they needed help? Have you found the resources on campus sufficient or lacking? Do you know what happens when you start the ball rolling on getting your student the help they need? Read on…


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