Anxiety is the number one concern among college students presenting for therapy at their college counseling centers. We caught up with Dr. Marcus Hotaling, Director of the Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center at Union College (NY) and President of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, to ask him about effective ways to help faculty members infuse mental health/anxiety reduction techniques into their academic work and practices. He shared that, “College (and education in general) is inherently anxiety producing. Nowhere outside of education is a person asked to provide answers to questions without using any resources, talking to peers, or asking for help, all while at the end of it all, being provided a numerical grade for said work.
“Faculty are in a great position to help alleviate some of the pressures and help reduce the anxiety that students feel by infusing various techniques and practices into their course curriculum. Some of these solutions are easy, while others are more complicated. Let's start with the easy ones:
- Syllabus statements - have a statement that addresses mental health in your syllabus, the resources available on campus, and that stress, anxiety, and emotions are normal.
- Set the deadlines for work to be handed in at a reasonable time. Too often, faculty assign deadlines of midnight. This means that students are frantically working up until midnight to turn in an assignment and then using the next few hours to settle their anxieties down. Set the deadline for 10 pm, and let a student have the next 2 hours to settle down.
- Remind them that anything less than an A is not a failure. Bs are beautiful, and an F (or any poor grade) is feedback that what they are doing isn't working. As long as they readjust they can improve.
- Give students a few minutes before the test to look at the test, evaluate the questions, and develop a plan of attack for the test. This allows the students a few minutes to recognize that they know the bulk of the material, and that they will have time to work on the questions where more effort is needed.
- A little positive affirmation goes a long way! A simple statement at the top of an exam such as ‘Take a deep breath. You got this!’ or ‘No one will ever care or know the score of this one test.’ helps to create a more calming environment.
- Allow students to work in ‘real life’ situations - if a class and coursework allow for it, allow students to work in groups to complete assignments. Very rarely are students going to be working solo. Engineers, doctors, teachers - all of them will be a part of a team approach in most situations. Let them work that way to complete coursework. Let them learn that sometimes they will be the one picking up most of the work, and at other times, their peers will be picking up their slack.
- Do not pathologize normal emotions - if a student comes to you and indicates struggles or that they have experienced a loss, do not immediately suggest counseling. Offer empathy first, and offer multiple campuses resources, not just counseling
- If your class allows for it, infuse mental health information into it. For example, most social science classes will allow there to be some manner of talking about mental health. Normalize it the best you can (even a class about Ancient Greece can talk about how stigma was present for individuals with mental illness, and talk about the decrease in stigma that is occurring today).
- Bring in campus resources to talk to your class. Offer 10 minutes of your class a few times a semester to let various campus resources come and talk to the class.
- Focus on social norms (if the data is available). Too often, students feel that ‘everyone drinks,’ or ‘no one uses the counseling center.’ If data is available, and it fits into your class materials, focus on how beliefs do not always mirror reality.”
Learn more from Dr. Hotaling during our webinar on The Anxiety Endemic: Ways to Care for Student Mental Health on March 9 from 2-3:30 pm (ET).