The Role of Faculty


Faculty/teaching staff play a vital role in co-creating the learning environment with which students engage and can contribute to reducing the number of stressors in that environment. This can be done through teaching practices and the beliefs and attitudes that are part of a positive teaching style.[1]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596 Through work and actions that foster well-being and support, positive student mental health is possible. This is not to say faculty/teaching staff need to become mental health experts or provide counselling, but there are steps they can take in the classroom to positively impact students’ mental health.

The learning environment consists not only of the physical or virtual space where learning takes place, but also the educational approach and the conditions for learning.[2]Dyjur, P., Lindstrom, G., Arguera, N., & Bair, H. (2017). USING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS AS A FRAMEWORK FOR COURSE DESIGN. Papers on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching, 2, 1-9. By utilizing the learning environment as an opportunity to promote well-being, faculty/teaching staff demonstrate caring and respect for student concerns. In turn, caring and respect positively impact students’ educational experience.[3]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596

When asked to define well-being, students often speak about finding a balance between the different parts of their lives and say the achievement of this balance lends itself to feeling happy and fulfilled. They note the relationship between learning and well-being is a positive feedback loop and the effects of this relationship, whether positive or negative, influence other areas of a student’s life. This viewpoint highlights how important it is that mental well-being is a part of the classroom environment and that students’ well-being in this space impacts their overall wellness.[4]Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T. (2016). Understanding Students’ Experiences of Well-Being in Learning Environments. Higher Education Studies, 6(3), 90. doi:10.5539/hes.v6n3p90

Group of People Working at a desk with TechnologyOver the course of their time in post-secondary, students may often develop a rapport with faculty and turn to them in their times of need. Students, in particular first-year students, are frequently interacting with faculty. They are speaking to faculty about career plans, course topics (when outside of class) and interacting with faculty in activities other than coursework. The number of first-year students engaging in this behaviour has increased by more than 10 per cent from 2004 to 2019 (NSSE, 2019). Therefore, it is important that faculty are equipped with the mental health tools and knowledge needed to support a student.[5]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59. Ideally, part of the faculty/teaching staff role is to be able to notice the signs when a student is struggling with their mental health. Examples of some signs are absenteeism, submitting assignments late, anxiety, anger, or being disengaged in class.[6]Dyjur, P., Lindstrom, G., Arguera, N., & Bair, H. (2017). USING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS AS A FRAMEWORK FOR COURSE DESIGN. Papers on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching, 2, 1-9. The promotion of mental health promotion is meant to empower those experiencing challenges with their mental health and give them the ability to make choices and exercise control over their own mental health, while also providing the space for their community to support them in this process.[7]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.

Studies show faculty members are, more often than not, willing and wanting to support students with their mental health, but they may not have the tools and/or the confidence they need to do so. An Australian study[8]Gulliver, A., Farrer, L., Bennett, K., Ali, K., Hellsing, A., Katruss, N., & Griffiths, K. M. (2018). University staff experiences of students with mental health problems and their perceptions of staff training needs. Journal of Mental Health, 27(3), 247-256. doi:10.1080/09638237.2018.1466042 showed the following regarding faculty members’ ability and willingness to support students:

72%72 per cent chose to initiate a conversation with a student they were concerned about regarding their well-being and took the time to listen to that student’s concerns and sympathize with them
 
60% 
60 per cent of staff don’t feel they are informed enough to support student mental health
 
 
12% t o 67% 
12 per cent have received some form of formal training on student mental health, while 67 per cent feel they should be receiving training on how to respond to these issues

    • Some of the topics faculty in this study wanted to learn more about include: where to direct students for services, standard procedures, depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders and substance misuse

 
72%74 per cent of faculty don’t know if their institution has a written policy on how to respond to student mental health issues

References

1, 3Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596
2, 6Dyjur, P., Lindstrom, G., Arguera, N., & Bair, H. (2017). USING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS AS A FRAMEWORK FOR COURSE DESIGN. Papers on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching, 2, 1-9.
4Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T. (2016). Understanding Students’ Experiences of Well-Being in Learning Environments. Higher Education Studies, 6(3), 90. doi:10.5539/hes.v6n3p90
5, 7Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.
8Gulliver, A., Farrer, L., Bennett, K., Ali, K., Hellsing, A., Katruss, N., & Griffiths, K. M. (2018). University staff experiences of students with mental health problems and their perceptions of staff training needs. Journal of Mental Health, 27(3), 247-256. doi:10.1080/09638237.2018.1466042
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