Supporting the Mental Wellbeing

April 15, 2019 / By: J. Roxanne Prichard, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience Program

Five Practical Ways Professors Can Help

  1. Educate yourself more about anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD and ADHD.
    Approximately 25% of students have one or more of the above diagnoses, and many more show symptoms of the above but have not yet received support. Psychologists from our Counseling and Psychological Support team are happy to come to your department meeting for presentations or conversations.

  2. Include mental health resources and policies on your syllabus.
    Include the CAPS phone numbers, hours, appointment links, and drop-in “Let’s Talk” hours in your syllabus as free resources students can use. Include a link to the Wellness Center’s page for other support programming. Remind students that diagnosed mental illnesses can be classified as disabilities, so students whose connect with the Disabilities Resources Office for information about accommodations.

  3. Destigmatize mental health resources.
    There’s still quite a lot of stigma regarding seeking support for mental health care, and the students whose mental health is most in distress tend to carry the most self-stigma regarding receiving support. In class, I purposely share stories of how I have benefited from mental health support (relationship counseling when a partner and I were trying to make major decisions; a dissertation support group for women; grief counseling.) I also de-mystify the counseling process by explaining that the psychologists don’t give diagnoses, don’t tell your parents, maintain anonymity, and work with you where you’re at.

  4. Use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework.
    This image is always in my first day lecture, and shows up frequently in advising meetings too. I say that as professors we are hoping that you are preforming at the top level—but to do that your more basic needs must be met. If you come to class really sleepy or hungry, you’re not going to be able to concentrate on anything but those needs. If you’re concerned about safety or relationship security, you won’t be able to focus. I also provide on-campus resources to help with those concerns. Mindfulness can be a great tool to help us all identify with what our bodies / our minds are trying to communicate about our needs.

  5. Cultivate a sense of belonging.
    On Maslow’s Hierarchy, belonging is level 3, right above safety and below purpose and accomplishment. Not having a sense of belonging is one of the primary reasons students give for leaving St. Thomas without a degree. For many students, especially those who don’t have easy access to travel home whenever they please, transitioning to St. Thomas means the sudden loss of authentic conversations with a wide variety of community members (friends, coaches, congregants, co-workers, a favorite grocery clerk or librarian who always checks in on you, etc). The transition to coming into a community where it seems like most of your classmates already have social networks in place makes folks feel like outsiders.  As a professor, I put my social capital directly on my syllabus: I say I’ve been here 13 years and can help connect people to different groups, clubs, alumni, mentors, etc. One student wanted a Vietnamese conversation partner. Another student wanted to talk to someone who had experience being kicked out for coming out. Making opportunities both in class and out of class for authentic conversations helps cultivate a sense of belonging.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with five layers that correspond to different types of needs. From the bottom to the top of the pyramid, the needs are: psychological needs; safety and security needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization (at the very top).