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Higher Education
Student Support
Mental Health & Wellness

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing insight-driven ways to promote student well-being

It won’t come as news to any student support professional that by nearly every metric, student mental health is suffering. Students today — traditional, adult, online, on campus — face challenges ranging from financial strain and academic stress to food insecurity and issues of belonging.  A recent national survey by the American College Health Association revealed that roughly 76% of undergraduate students were experiencing moderate to serious psychological stress. Results from this same survey showed that 99% of students who face academic challenges say those challenges affect their mental health. And in a separate finding, more than 60% of the college students participating in the Healthy Minds survey met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, up nearly 50% from a decade ago.

So this May, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, our focus is on the importance of students’ mental and emotional well-being and the ways we can best support it. To do so, we tapped into lessons and experiences from seasoned InsideTrack coaches, most especially the late and beloved John French. His professional life was dedicated to supporting students, and his thoughtful insights into student support are both timely and timeless. We’re sharing some of his guiding tenets for supporting student well-being, based on collective coaching experiences with thousands of students. We hope they will complement and enhance the critical mental health support you’re already providing.

Caring, engaged support at the right time can make all the difference

No student enrolls in college with the intention to fail or the expectation of a mental health issue. Yet, as the statistics shared earlier indicate, there’s never been a more important time to ensure that checking in on the mental and emotional well-being of learners is a key facet of holistic student support. Listen as students from schools around the country relay their stories about just how game-changing and necessary this support has been for them.

The support relationship is a partnership built on openness and honesty

Your students need to know that you believe in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. They also need to know that they’re in good hands. Commit to being completely open, honest, direct and transparent with your students — it’s important to be clear and patient with all students, especially when they are struggling. With forethought and compassion, you can always find a good way to deliver a difficult message.

Keep caring and worrying separate

Caring is what allows us to support and listen to our students without judgment. When hearing about the issues our students are struggling with — especially mental health issues — we serve them best by remaining compassionate yet centered, not by wading into chaos with them. Worrying will only keep you up at night, agonizing over questions like, “Why did they do that? Why didn’t they do this?!” Worry paves the road to burnout. And student support professionals do their best work when their own mental health is sound.

Don’t make assumptions

The assumptions you make about your students will rarely serve them, even if the assumptions are “positive.” How will you know you’re being assumptive? If you find yourself constructing a narrative about your student with little to no factual evidence, or if you find that you’re feeling angry, irritated or frustrated while meeting with them, you may be falling into assumptive thought patterns. This is a sound policy for all support coaching situations but is even more important when providing support around issues of mental and emotional well-being. 

Remind students that people don’t fail, plans do

Students who struggle academically often have something in common: they don’t have a plan for completing their school work each week. A plan can be loose and informal or it can be highly structured, whatever works for them. And they need to be able to change the structure of their plan depending on the situation each week. When a student gets a bad grade on a paper, fails a test or receives harsh feedback from an instructor, it’s only human for them to feel like they’re a failure. As a coach, that’s why it’s important to remind our students that they are not failures. People don’t fail. Plans do. For the student, it’s about shifting perspective and realizing that with a new plan, a new strategy, they can try again — and this time, success is possible.

Your most important student is the one you’re meeting with right now

Support resources tend to be stretched thin, especially these days. With many students on your roster, you may feel the need to move briskly through your coaching sessions to get to everyone. Slow down. Knowing that these challenging times call for greater mental health support, it is extremely important to stay engaged with the student you’re talking to. Ask the student three more questions, even when you think everything is okay. You’ll be surprised by what you would’ve missed if you ended the meeting prematurely.

Sometimes you are not the support professional your student needs most 

Sometimes the help a student needs can be found right on their campus (or online portal). Make sure you have a firm understanding of institutional resources — such as the writing center, computer and IT services, child care services, career center, campus recreation, financial aid office, tutoring services and more — including the library.

It’s also important to recognize when the support your student needs goes beyond your abilities, experience or level of comfort. It’s also important to be able to connect them with or direct them to the right people or resources. One option is to connect a student with a counselor, using understanding and compassion. For students facing other types of serious challenges — such as food or housing insecurity, domestic violence and financial struggles — InsideTrack coaches can connect learners to our specially trained Crisis Support Services (CSS) team. CSS specialists are certified and qualified to assess, triage and stabilize each situation with wraparound support in partnership with your institution.

You are doing important work

Though student mental and emotional well-being is one of the most widespread challenges facing higher education right now, there is reason to be hopeful. Students are being more upfront about their mental health challenges, more open to the idea of help, and more active than in previous years in seeking that help. Awareness around this issue is getting better, which helps to diminish lingering stigmas about seeking much-needed support. But as a student support professional on the front lines of this challenge, you know there is more work to be done. We see you, and we appreciate the work you’re doing to support student well-being. It is making a difference.

At a time when she was struggling with her mental health, this first-generation learner leaned in to the support and guidance of her retention coach, helping her stay on track and persist through her challenges to reach her educational goal.

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