Dr. Ashley Hall is an adjunct instructor at Abilene Christian University
In a recent poll, Cengage found that 36% of instructors are concerned with the burnout and mental health of students. College has always been stressful, but as the world enters the third year of a global pandemic, the pressures have only escalated. While instructors are not counselors or social workers, there are things we can do to help students prioritize their mental health and prevent burnout.
Talk About Mental Health
There is power in talking about mental health and burnout. It can help lessen the stigma that is unfortunately sometimes attached to it and serves as a reminder that we are all human and endure difficult seasons.
A key point in talking about mental health is repeatedly reminding students of the resources available to them through their tuition dollars. Many colleges and universities have counseling centers available on campus or via telehealth.
There are also apps that promote meditation and mindfulness that can help students from the comfort of their homes, apartments or dorms. To avoid having students suffer in silence, talk regularly about practical tips that can help improve mental health, along with the resources available to students.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries can help both faculty and students avoid burnout. Talk to your students about why boundaries are necessary and important. Encourage students to set reasonable boundaries for themselves as well.
For example, a key problem that many college students face is overcommitting. When presented with so many options of things to do, clubs to join, causes to support and people to meet, they often get overwhelmed and say yes to too much. This can quickly crowd their schedule and contribute to feelings of stress and overwhelm when combined with the rigors of their academic studies.
Likewise, talk to students about turning off “school mode” and including time for fun. This applies for instructors as well. Healthy boundaries between work and the rest of life will have a positive impact on your overall mental health.
Encouraging healthy habits can also help. Eating a balanced diet, getting sufficient sleep and spending time outdoors to enjoy nature and get some fresh air can all do wonders for mental health. Talk about the importance of these things while also implementing them for yourself. Remember that we are not just teachers or students, but we are people with a diverse set of needs trying to navigate a difficult situation.
Remind students that you are just a phone call or email away and that you want them to be successful. Encourage them to reach out if they have questions or need help, even beyond the course content. Even if you do not know the answer to their non-course related question, you can help by connecting them with the proper campus resources.
Similarly, let students know that you will reach out if you notice something different in their behavior or if they stop attending or logging in to the class. The goal is not to “catch” them or make them feel like they are in trouble, but instead to let them know that you see them and will reach out and try to help if something seems off. If the student lives on campus, your school may have a system in place for conducting a wellness check if requested. By sharing these processes with students ahead of time, they know that you care and that you want them to be healthy, both mentally and physically.
The bottom line is don’t be afraid to talk about mental health with your students. These simple solutions can go a long way in helping them navigate difficult periods and assist them in building resilience that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Explore research and strategies for supporting students’ mental health in our free eBook.