Who takes care of students’ mental health

Unbelievably, I’ve finished everything that was on my to-do list for the week last night. Don’t ask me how. It’s happened. Somehow it always happens. I’ve decided to take today almost off, and reward myself for the sustained ultra-marathon that the last bit of the term has been. Actually, to be completely honest, today has been a planned day off for a while; it’s been the perspective that’s enabled me to slog through the myriad tasks this week, which unexpectedly included a potential academic dishonesty case, which takes quite a bit of extra work. However, the carrot has worked better than the stick, and I’m getting ready to enjoy it.

As I was thinking of my own work going into somewhat of a lull, I realized the high-anxiety exam season is only just starting for students. This term I’ve been struck more than ever by just how high this anxiety is. And now it seems everyone is talking about it. The first red flag for me was the beginning of term, when, on a get-to-know-you questionnaire, which a friend generously shared, most students answered the potentially creative and funny question “when your mind drifts off in class, what will you be thinking of?’ with “what else I have to do today/this week.” It struck me that that’s not a great answer to give for people who should find themselves in a time of discovery, excitement, and other desirable adventures that the romanticization of first-year university would have us presuppose.

In light of this overwhelmingly predominant answer, I realized just how common student anxiety is. And it just went on from there. Luckily, our university had distributed a mental health pamphlet to instructors a while ago, which not only asked, but empowered us to look for and recognize signs of mental health issues in students and address them by directing the students to the mental health centre. But there should be something more we could do than the troublingly neoliberal “just go take care of yourself” move, which is enhanced by universities/departments whose policy it is to not interfere, and who justify this reluctance by the ostensible lack of training of their instructors. I wonder if this argument is not actually couched in the stigma of mental health problems, in the sense of not wanting any liability connected with making assumptions about something so “delicate.” Training or not, would they have their instructors intervene or call 911 if a student was having a heart attack, I wonder?

What’s been your own experience on this topic? Do you notice a marked change, or is it gradual? Should we, non-mental-health professionals take the initiative of directing students to the proper clinics and facilities to get help in stress- and anxiety-management?

One thought on “Who takes care of students’ mental health

  1. I was just thinking about this last night/ today as I am grading essays. As instructors we do have a lot on our plates as well, but I wonder if we are doing enough for our students when it comes to mental health. I don't have any answers or magic solutions but we really need to make sure this is something that the students feel can be an open dialogue. Even if we are not the trained professionals in that regard, we most definitely can (and ethically should) point them in the direction of the assistance that they may need.


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