The essay below comes from Tamra Adams ’18, who was one of our Student Fellows from last year. Although she wrote this essay for us in the spring of 2018, we held off on publishing it until now so faculty could consider the important issues she raises as they are launching their fall 2018 courses. Be on the lookout this year for four new essays from the 2018-2019 group of D’Amour Student Fellows.
Mental health is a critical and increasing concern on college campuses. According to the 2013 Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors survey, anxiety is the leading mental health symptom among college students, affecting 41.6% of the surveyed population, followed by depression, affecting 36.4% of this population. Kevin Murphy, Director of Counseling Services at Assumption College, confirmed that these rates are consistent with what he has observed at Assumption. For students, the dynamic college years can be riddled with nonstop change, stressors in their social lives, extracurricular activity responsibilities, pressure to think about post-undergraduate life, and, of course, the everyday demands of the classroom.
In this article, I will briefly discuss what the literature suggests as ways you as an educator can recognize anxiety and depression in students, propose a mental health awareness initiative, and, lastly, highlight resources available online and at Assumption College.
Many students will endure stress and/or sadness at some point in their college career, so how can faculty determine when it may be more than that? How can you know when a student is dealing with a mental health disorder and is in need of support? The short answer is, oftentimes, you cannot. You likely only see each of your students a maximum of three times a week for one hour each day during which you are lecturing, giving quizzes and exams, or proctoring group work. This leaves little time to get to know most of your students on the level needed to determine if they may be suffering from anxiety or depression.
There are, however, some indications shown in the literature that suggest when a student may be dealing with anxiety or depression. Some of these signs you may encounter include excessively missing classes, decreased attentiveness, diminished social activity, and changes in academic performance. You may also observe restlessness or irritability in students who struggle with mental health issues.
Getting to know your students
To better recognize when a student may be dealing with mental illness, it might help to dedicate some time in the first class to learning a little bit about your students. You may do this by requiring students to fill out index cards with some personal information such as class year, club/organization involvement, athletic schedules, etc. According to the literature, this information will help you to better understand your students and put their lives into perspective, which may help you to better recognize if a student is dealing with depression or anxiety.
Another option to better understand your students is to hold mandatory office hours. For example, at the beginning of the semester, you could require students to meet with you one-on-one for 5-10 minutes in your office. By doing this, you may make yourself more approachable to students while also learning a little bit about each student by giving them the opportunity to speak freely with you.
Responding to mental health
If a student discloses that she struggles with depression or anxiety, what should you do? One possibility is trying to understand what that individual is dealing with and letting her know that you care about her well-being as well as her success in your course. You could also check in with her from time to time, especially during the more difficult times of the semester, such as during midterms and finals. Finally, try to encourage all students to take care of their mental health and seek help if they need it, whether or not you know they have a mental health disorder. According to the literature, many students benefit from counseling services, regardless of their mental health status.
On a more concrete level, I would like to propose that Assumption faculty make the contact information of the Assumption College Counseling Services readily available to all students by including it in course syllabi. Similar to the Disability Services and Academic Support Center statements located in syllabi, which indicate how to access these services on campus, I believe this information would be extremely useful for students with mental health disorders as well as students who may just need someone to speak with during the more difficult times of their lives. By including the basic information about this service, such as where it can be located and how to contact the counselors, all students would be aware of this helpful resource on campus. An example of what this statement will include is shown below.
Example of Counseling Services Syllabi Statement:
The Student Development & Counseling Center, located in the Health Services Building across from Moquin Hall, supports student growth and development as they meet the challenges and choices faced throughout college. The staff provide confidential, personal assessment which is covered by the cost of tuition. Call extension 7329 to make an appointment or extension 7777 for any emergency.
- Mental health screenings are available online. While the results of these screenings cannot be used as diagnoses, they can lead students to seeking additional, professional help.
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America website provides a variety of helpful materials including videos, brochures, surveys, and articles to educate the public on these mental health disorders and their prevalence in college students.
- ULifeline is an online resource for college mental health. This website provides facts, signs, and symptoms about several mental health disorders, as well as additional resources for seeking help.
- Anonymous Suicide prevention hotline
The Student Development & Counseling Services Center staff provides confidential, personal student assessments which are covered by the cost of tuition. Staff are available for individual and group appointments as well as classroom presentations. These services are located in the Health Services building across from Moquin Hall.