Did you know that approximately 85% of University of Rochester faculty and student support staff have spoken with a student about their mental health in the last 12 months? Yet the majority have never received any specialized instruction to navigate these difficult discussions. We aim to provide a comprehensive training program to address this gap.
This self-paced training includes a series of required and elective workshops offered by a team of University of Rochester content experts. Workshops have been thoughtfully developed and include topics such as how to have supportive conversations with students, how to recognize and connect students in distress with appropriate campus resources, how to deal with your own compassion fatigue, and many more!
The goals of the Well-being for Life and Learning training program are to create supportive environments, positively impact student health, improve academic success, and mobilize cultural change on campus. We hope to provide faculty, instructors, and student support staff with simple strategies which can be implemented both in and out of the classroom to help students flourish.
In 2021 and 2022, the UHS Health Promotion Office held a successful workshop series called Supporting Students Mental Health. These workshops provided education to faculty and staff about navigating the difficulties students were experiencing during COVID. Over 300 faculty and staff participated in this program.
Many participants shared that students often approach them and disclose difficulties that go beyond academic, including concerns about anxiety, depression, and trauma. Many also admitted that they were not very confident in their ability to have these difficult conversations and looked forward to UHS providing additional educational opportunities on these topics.
Based on this feedback, we began work to further evolve the original workshop series. Throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, we conducted surveys with faculty, instructors and student support staff, held focus groups with students, and gathered a cohort of campus experts to help contribute to this initiative. This program is set to launch in September 2023.
Over the past decade, there has been a gradual decline in the mental health and well-being of college students, with a notable increasing following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (Lee, Solomon, Stead, Kwon, and Ganti, 2021). At many institutions nationally, student well-being programming, services, and policy have been one of the largest priorities since 2020 however yet, students continue to face even higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression as a result of the fallout of the pandemic.
In our biennial National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey conducted among our undergraduate and graduate student populations, we discovered concerning results from 2022. More than three-quarters of our students (80% of undergraduates and 70% of graduate students) reported experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress. These distress levels not only pose a risk to students’ emotional and physical well-being but also have a detrimental effect on their academic performance. Our survey revealed that a significant portion of students (29.8% and 20% respectively) attributed their academic struggles to stress and anxiety (American College Health Association, 2022a; American College Health Association, 2022b).
Given the increased demand for student mental health support at higher education institutions, faculty and student support staff have been deemed as the “gatekeepers” of student mental health as they are often be the first person that students have gone to when they are in distress or in mental crisis. In fact, a 2020 study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health, the Mary Christie Foundation, and the Healthy Minds Network found that almost 80 percent of faculty stated that they spoke with students regarding their students’ mental health and wellness in the past 12 months (Boston University School of Public Health, Mary Christie Foundation, the Healthy Minds Network, and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, 2021). Of those faculty, 51% reported that they felt equipped to recognize a student in distress and yet 73% wanted to have more knowledge on how to best support the mental health of students (Boston University School of Public Health et al., 2021).
We decided that we wanted to gain more insight into our own U of R faculty and staff by launching a survey the Spring of 2023. Comparably, our findings showed that 85% of faculty and staff have spoken one-on-one with a student about their mental health and/or well-being in the last 12 months and over half of staff (59%) and faculty (74%) stated that they had never received specialized training to navigate discussions with students in distress. However, akin to the national average, 70% of them stated that they are motivated to learn.
Probably our most notable findings have come from students. According to the recent Student Voice survey on health and wellness, students rated professors as the number 1 group on campus that have a responsibility to help them ease their stress and 45% of professors say that faculty have a responsibility to help students struggling with their mental health, which goes beyond just dealing with stress (Flaherty, 2023). On our own campus, we have found through our NCHA survey data from 2022 that 25% of undergraduates and 34.4% of graduate students reported that faculty had negatively impacted their performance in class. Even more concerning, 18.8% of graduate students stated that faculty delayed one’s progress towards their degree (American College Health Association, 2022b).
With the large percentage of faculty and staff poised with this additional role on supporting students on top of their job responsibilities, these data demonstrate the need to equip them with tools to recognize students in distress and support the well-being of the students that they engage with on a regular basis in quick, effective, and compassionate ways.
The learning environment is the most influential factor in a student’s overall college experience and is deeply connected to academic success and personal wellness, putting faculty in unique and critical positions for supporting student well-being (Okanagan Charter, 2015). Extensive research has shown that student well-being is impacted through various aspects of learning environments, from the course curriculum, course design, assignments and testing, grading, classroom culture, the classroom space, as well as the teachers (Di Placito-De Rango, 2019; Stanton, Zandvliet, Black & Dhaliwal, 2016).
At academic research institutions, learning does not stop as one leaves the classroom; Students are often highly involved in a variety of offices and departments on campus through work positions, student groups, volunteering, and tapping into student support services. To enable and empower students to thrive, engaging with student support staff is thus critical to establish a shared understanding of student well-being as well as education on tools to compassionately support students in all places students are engaged with on campus.
This self-paced training includes two tracks. The Campus Environments track for student support staff, and the Learning Environments track for faculty and instructors.
Each track includes 4 required workshops and your choice of at least 2 electives. Workshops will be offered in a hybrid format, twice per semester. All curriculum details including workshop descriptions and scheduling will be provided through the MyPath learning platform.
Once all components of the training program have been completed, participants will receive a certificate of completion, a Well-being for Life and Learning guidebook, a sticker to place on their office door, an icon to place in their email signature, and recognition on the Well-being for Life and Learning website.
To get started with the Well-Being for Life and Learning training program, first fill out the brief registration form below. This will also add you to our email communication list so you will be informed about any future program updates. Upon registration you will receive (after September 1st) a welcome email detailing next steps for MyPath and individual workshop registrations.
American College Health Association (2022a). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment III: University of Rochester Graduate Data Report Spring 2022. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association.
American College Health Association (2022b). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment III: University of Rochester Undergraduate Data Report Spring 2022. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association.
Boston University School of Public Health, Mary Christie Foundation, the Healthy Minds Network, and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2021). (rep.). The Role of Faculty in Student Mental Health. Retrieved from https://marychristieinstitute.org/reports/the-role-of-faculty-in-student-mental-health/.
DiPlacito-DeRango, M. L. (2016). Acknowledge the barriers to better the practices: Support for student mental health in higher education. Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(2), 2.
Flaherty, C. (2023, May 17). Survey: Stress is impacting college student success. Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Events and Jobs. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/student-success/health-wellness/2023/05/17/survey-stress-undercutting-student-success
Lee, J., Solomon, M., Stead, T., Kwon, B., & Ganti, L. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of US college students. BMC psychology, 9(1), 95.
Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T. (2016). Understanding Students’ Experiences of Well-Being in Learning Environments. Higher Education Studies, 6(3), 90-99.
Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015).