224. Student Mental Health

Faculty everywhere have been observing an increase in student reports of mental health issues during the last few years. In this episode, Katherine Wolfe-Lyga and Kyle Dzintars join us to discuss how faculty, counseling centers, and institutions can work together to better support our students during challenging times. Kate and Kyle are both New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselors. Kate is the Director of the Counseling Services Center at SUNY Oswego and Kyle is a Senior Counselor and coordinates the Counseling Outreach Peer Educators program at SUNY Oswego.


John: Faculty everywhere have been observing an increase in student reports of mental health issues during the last few years. In this episode, we discuss how faculty, counseling centers, and institutions can work together to better support our students during challenging times.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Katherine Wolfe-Lyga and Kyle Dzintars. Kate and Kyle are both New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselors. Kate is the Director of the Counseling Services Center at SUNY Oswego and Kyle is a Senior Counselor and coordinates the Counseling Outreach Peer Educators program at SUNY Oswego. Welcome, Kate and Kyle.

Kate: Thank you.

Kyle: Thanks for having us.

John: Today’s teas are:

Kate: Well, I’m drinking an offshoot of tea. I’m drinking kombucha.

John: Ok, that’s tea.

Rebecca: That is a first on the podcast.

Kate: Oooh, [LAUGHTER] yay.

Kyle:Nice. [LAUGHTER] I’ve got a nice Jasmine green tea.

Rebecca: Oh, that sounds nice. I wish I had that. But I do have a very nice Yunan jig, which is a black blend.

John: I think we do have some Jasmine green tea in the office, if you want to stop by sometime.

Kyle: There you go. [LAUGHTER]

John: And I am drinking Tea Forte black currant tea today.

Rebecca: Ah, back to an old favorite. So we’ve invited you here to discuss the growth in mental health challenges facing college students. Can you talk a little bit about this increased mental health issues that we’re seeing?

Kate: I’m glad you started with this, because I will tell you that this is almost a source of debate in the counseling center community because, in some ways, we do know we’re seeing an increased reliance on counseling. We’re having capacity issues, students are really utilizing us and asking for more and more. That said, we’ve asked them to do this. We’ve worked over time to reduce stigma, create new access points, find ways to connect with students and make it really accessible for them. In addition to that, students come out of K through 12 and they’ve always had somebody that they can drop in and talk to. It’s not necessarily the same intervention as a licensed mental health counselor might offer or a psychologist or marriage and family therapist or a multidisciplinary team. But students rely on confidential resources. And again, we’ve asked them to do this.

Kyle: I would add to that, too, because I think as it becomes more normalized, especially in younger populations, it’s easier for them to seek services that they know are available to them as they move into academics and college life and going through some of those transitions. And obviously, that’s a big change for a lot of people. So, yeah, the more we’ve talked about it, I think the more normalized it’s become and the more people will seek it out.

John: My that also have made it easier for people who might have had anxiety issues or other issues that might have prevented them from considering college to be willing to attend college, knowing that there’s more support.

Kate: I think that’s a really good point, John, because that is something that, just generally speaking, the folks who are coming to college are not the folks who are attending college 20, 30 40, or 50 years ago. And so, yeah, to that point, we do have people who are coming in with different kinds of stressors in their lives, certainly coming from different backgrounds… the academy, not necessarily being set up to meaningfully support those students. The adjustment aspect that Kyle had mentioned, there’s the normative adjustment, and then there’s almost like this systemic adjustment, that’s another layer added on there.

Rebecca: We saw the pandemic increase awareness of many things about our students over the past couple of years… weird to be saying a couple of years now, but it’s kind of where we’re at. So, things like poverty, unstable housing, food crisis, all kinds of things that weren’t visible to us necessarily before, but were still there. Are mental health challenges one of those things that maybe I’ve just become more visible?

Kate: I think perhaps. I also think that it kind of maybe ties to the tipping point aspect of things that just there’s so many stressors that we can adapt to. And then adding in the uncertainty of a global pandemic, which I think I feel pretty confident saying that everybody has experienced this profound sense of uncertainty that’s really destabilizing. And I think the impact of isolation and so you start layering these things on and they become, to some folks, insurmountable, at least with the coping skills that they already have.

Kyle: And I feel like a lot of those additional pressures that people are feeling… I think of students who are taking care of family members during the pandemic or who just have concerns about immunocompromised family members. There’s a lot more of that pressure that’s been applied that people are carrying into their normal activities that they would have been doing pre-pandemic. And I feel like that has made it so much more to carry on your own. And I think that’s led to a lot more conversations about mental health and us kind of acknowledging some of the systemic and societal factors that have played a role in people’s mental health, their anxiety, their depression, and how they seek support.

John: How does the rise in these issues due to the pandemic and many other factors that have been occurring… how does that affect student’s ability to learn and being successful in college?

Kate: I think a lot of people end up being familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and I think for some… maybe a little passe… but, I think there is this element of being able to look at some of our basic needs. And if our basic needs are being overburdened, or they’re deficient, and we’re just not getting them met, the ability to cognitively engage in the classroom, to be able to manage all the sensory information of what’s happening in the classroom… in addition to the whole idea that we shifted our students online in spring of 20, many of them continued throughout the following academic year with that mode of instruction, and then shifting back into the classroom and trying to manage… just, again, the adjustment aspect of it, those things increase the difficulty, of course.

Kyle: For sure, and I think it also has created so much to manage and keep organized for students. So I think of the students who moved online, then the class was supposed to come back in person, but then it moved to a hybrid, and just having to figure out all of the different ways to manage the changes, the expectations, and to keep up with all of it, while they’re still worried about their own safety, possibly family members, possibly holding a job. So it just becomes a lot that they have to juggle and keep track of. And you can see where organizing that and just mentally keeping track of all that becomes anxiety provoking for a lot of people. And it makes it difficult to focus and concentrate on specific tasks, because there’s just so much that you have to be attentive to at one time.

Kate: One other thing I’ll just mention, too, is so much coming down to where expectations meet reality, particularly this semester. Most of us return to in-person services, in-person learning. And I think the expectation was that we could resume some sense of air quote, normalcy. And I think most of us have found that very elusive. I think the uncertainty remains, it’s just about different things right now. And the impact of that it’s a heavy load.

Rebecca: I know that in my own interactions with students in the past semester, more so even than the first couple of semesters during the pandemic, students have just disclosed that they feel frozen, they just don’t even know where to begin and aren’t doing a lot of things outside of class because they feel very overwhelmed. What can faculty do to help students reduce anxiety, reduce stress, and find paths forward, [LAUGHTER] so that they do feel like they can manage and have a little agency in what they’re doing.

Kyle: I think for a lot of faculty members, it’s kind of just naming what everybody might be experiencing, I think we have to call attention to it and accept that it could be a normal experience for a lot of people in the room. And I think that eases some of the pressure and uncertainty that people might have, entering into a classroom. One thing that I’ll mention, I’ve heard from a lot of students that they expect themselves to be back to normal at this point, and they don’t understand why they’re struggling with motivation, concentration, with feeling like they can handle the work that they’ve been able to handle before. So I think just having classroom discussions, even at the start of a semester, that says things are different right now. And if you aren’t doing things up to the way that you’ve been doing them, or that you are feeling a lack of confidence or uncertainty, to just be able to seek support, reach out to a faculty member, just to acknowledge what’s going on. And I think being open to that, as a faculty member, is really important. But, I also think of just those little things that we can do in a classroom setting, maybe practicing some kind of grounding technique just at the start of class, let people get settled and feel like they’ve entered into a space that can be calm and settled and focused, because a lot of us are coming from different places, and students carry a lot of that busyness into those rooms and spaces. So if we can at least create a sense of calm, and let’s settle into this space, to be here and now, I think that can be really helpful.

Rebecca: Kyle, it’s really interesting that you mentioned that grounding activity. I’ve been teaching synchronously online, and students were really craving a way to transition into that space. And so we were just doing more social get-to-know-you kind of activities, or just ways to build community at the beginning of class. And in their end-of-semester reflections, many of them indicated that that was really helpful to them.

Kyle: Yeah.

Rebecca: …and they also mentioned the exact other thing that you said, which is acknowledging that many people are struggling with mental health and normalizing that. So both of those things students provided a lot of feedback to me on at the end of the semester. So it’s really interesting that those are the two things that you just brought up, Kyle.

Kate: And I think it’s so validating. In the classroom, generally speaking, the professor has the power in the room. They have the evaluative responsibility when they’re conducting the class. And having the person in power validate the experience: “This is really hard. This is really difficult…” …is just so affirming, I think as, well. So that normalization, but the validation too. And one other thing I’ll just mention that is connected to this is when students are exhibiting certain things and faculty maybe just aren’t quite as comfortable being able to have more social connection in the classroom and create some of those experiences. I think being able to participate in like a QPR training and be aware of useful language and referral sources and those types of things, can even help the instructor to set a tone in the classroom that they’re prepared to attend to the needs that come up in a different way.

Rebecca: Kate, for people that aren’t familiar with QPR, can you describe what that is?

Kate: QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. And in January of 2020, SUNY Oswego was awarded a federal grant for suicide prevention. And it’s really about building infrastructure at the college to prevent suicide. So, one of the project goals was really to get as many people trained in QPR as possible. It’s a 90-minute training. We have 24, I think… 27 maybe… instructors across campus. So we have Associate Deans, department chairs, counselors, support staff, we actually have, across the line, QPR instructors, I think represented in every college and all but one division of the college. It’s really accessible. Some department teams have done it, some people have just elected to sign up for it. We have some students trained in it. So lots of opportunities, and folks can reach out to us in counseling, and we’ll get you connected. If you’re interested in training, we’ll get you connected to the person who’s coordinating the training for us.

John: That’s really helpful on the Oswego campus. But is that also going to be true on most other campuses? Is this a national program that is likely to be available many places?

Kate: It is likely to be available in many places. So QPR is a nationally recognized program. And it’s one of many programs that campuses may choose to sign on to for suicide prevention, and this like gatekeeper type of training. But the SUNY system also has the same kind of grant. It’s just at the state level one in partnership with the New York State Office of Mental Health. And so they’re also offering QPR online that’s available to other campuses, but many campuses have had it well established there as well.

Rebecca: I highly recommend it. I had to use it.

Kate: Yeah.

John: Most faculty, though, are not trained in addressing mental health issues, and students are referring to their concerns with anxiety and depression. What are the indicators that suggest that the faculty should refer that student to counseling? I’ve referred more students to counseling services this year than probably at any five-year period in the past because there have been so many students reporting that, but when should we be really concerned about serious issues (besides just a general suggestion of working with counseling)?

Kate: QPR certainly can be helpful at helping folks determine that, almost screen for that to some degree, I think when you recognize where your boundaries are… you know, so we’re all humans connecting with other humans in some form, of course, and when it exceeds the role responsibility and exceeds your comfort level, in terms of supporting the student, and you know it’s just outside of what you have the capacity to attend to. I mean, I certainly think that that’s a good time, I think referrals to the Dean of Students Office, sometimes they’re appropriate as well. What I would say with counseling, too, we are always willing to consult with folks. Our time is stretched thin. So in terms of the immediate response, we may not be able to offer that. But generally speaking, we’ll be able to speak with somebody that day about their concerns about a student and like, “Oh, how do I escalate this? Do I have a responsibility?” …some of those things that might go through someone’s head, we can help them work through.

Kyle: And I think a familiarity with resources that are available, because students might come with concerns that might not necessarily be counseling related, but could be addressed with other resources on campus. And I think sometimes that eases some of the pressure that a student might be feeling. So as long as faculty are aware of what those resources are, it makes it a little bit easier to refer in the right direction. I think of my own teaching experience as well and having students report increased anxiety or depression symptoms. And I feel like for faculty who don’t have their own experiences, maybe, in therapy or counseling, or don’t really know how to relate to the situation, it can be overwhelming or scary. So just being able to ask questions and check in with a student on a human level, as Kate mentioned, being able to just connect, so you can understand maybe where someone’s at… I think people are likely to share a little bit about what’s going on with themselves when they feel like they can trust you, you’ve built a good connection with them, but also knowing where your expertise and your skills kind of end. It’s okay to not have all the answers and be able to solve all of these issues for the students that you’re working with. So just being attentive, but also knowing when it feels uncomfortable or is beyond what you feel comfortable being able to manage… and I don’t want to underestimate the power of just someone feeling heard and seen, because I think that that is extremely important for a lot of students. And I’ll say even just from conversations with students, that teachers who have been upfront about struggling with their own anxiety and depression since the pandemic, has just eased so much of their own expectations of themselves, which, in and of itself, has been helpful for students. So even if that is just a small step, I think it does help at least students to feel less alone, but there’s a lot of power in just hearing someone out and helping someone to feel like someone else knows what they’re going through at the moment.

Rebecca: Do you have any advice about how to handle a referral? If you have rapport with a student, they disclose something, how should we approach like a handoff?

Kate: Really glad you asked that, actually, I think that’s a great question. I think my recommendation ends up being to be as transparent as possible, to try to lend credibility to whom you’re referring, being able to say, “Okay, Jane, you’ve said some things that I’m concerned about. And because I care about you, and I want you to be able to be successful, I want to ensure that I’m supporting you, and connecting you to resources at this time. So we can call together counseling services.” I think to the extent that people can do the warm handoff and walk people over, that’s ideal, but I also recognize it’s not always realistic. But that warm handoff piece, through email, through phone, walking folks over, I think is kind of the ideal situation when it comes to referring counseling. We, of course, have students who’ve either come to counseling here and didn’t have a positive experience, or they’ve had counseling in the past that maybe they were mandated to counseling, or they went as a child kind of against their will and those things. And so counseling leaves a bad taste in their mouth, and they’re not going to be willing to go. And I think in those situations, being able to even promote the idea of “Would you like to talk by phone with a counselor to walk you through alternative resources that may be available to you” …because we have a counseling center that recognizes there’s other paths to wellness, other than just mental health counseling.

Kyle: And even just asking, the basic question of “Who do you go to for support?” …is a great starting point, because for a lot of students, they have friends or family members that they felt comfortable talking with. And that might be just a good reminder to connect with the people in your life that you do trust already. And as a counselor who goes to counseling, being able to share positive experiences that faculty might have had on their own as well. So I think there’s always benefit in trying out the process. So, as a faculty member, just knowing what it’s like to go through that experience, to work on a goal, or to just seek out some support, it helps to ease those conversations, because you’re speaking from experience as well. And I know we all have our own different experiences, but sometimes that can be really helpful. And again, continue that normalization process of “This is what happens when we need some extra support and this is a resource that you can turn to.”

Rebecca: I know one other thing that I’ve faced this semester that I hadn’t in previous is some students with such significant mental health challenges that I’ve referred them to Accessibility Resources, and on some campuses that might be Disability Services for accommodations, and it’s something that those students had never ever considered. Do you have any advice about when to identify that path for students or helping students recognize that that might also be a support system that’s available for them?

Kate: I will say it’s tricky, because you end up in conversations around what’s behavioral, what are the things that are within people’s control and what’s not. And I think there’s obviously a space for that, where it is very appropriate for many students to be able to access and use accommodations based on diagnosis or condition. But I also think recognizing that a lot of times students need support and being able to use the power that they have to modify some of their existing circumstances to help promote or prioritize things differently. And, again, it’s a complicated question with a complicated response, I think. But I do think that, obviously, the referral to Accessibility Resources is appropriate for the exploration piece, especially when students disclose that they have a past diagnosis, a historical diagnosis, that perhaps they did receive accommodations in the past, but they wanted to try college out with some of those things. We now have the pandemic layered on top of it and all this other stuff. This is a really good time for them to consider re-engaging with those options.

Kyle: And I think also just in those classroom discussions, too, if there’s flexibility that can be permitted, I think it’s also good to be transparent about that. When faculty can acknowledge that there’s a lot of people who might be struggling, being able to make it clear where the flexibility might lie. I think that can ease some of the pressure that people feel where I know students who if they miss a deadline won’t hand in something where they might have gotten points, or even been able to hand it in late… have they had the conversation with the faculty member. So, just, I think making that as overt as possible can be really helpful. And I know that’s tricky as well in a classroom setting, depending on how you run a classroom and grading. But I think it can be really helpful for easing some of the pressure that someone might feel as they’re struggling and kind of coming to terms with what that experience might be. I think I’ve seen a lot of students this semester who have dealt with depression, and they have a diagnosis, they might be on medication, have never considered the accommodations piece, because it really is somewhat vulnerable to accept that I haven’t struggled before, but I’m struggling now, and accommodations might be really helpful for me. Sometimes that’s really difficult for people to sit with, and they don’t want to feel like they’re taking “advantage” (I’ll put that in quotes) of the system, even though it’s in place to help them.

John: Nationwide, there has been an increase in demand in counseling services, and I know, it’s certainly been true on our campus. What have you done to try to keep up with the demand in very challenging times.

Kate: We buckle our seatbelts and… [LAUGHTER] I’m just kidding. So we have been fortunate to have, I think, especially compared to some colleagues at other institutions, I think we’ve had a good degree of support at an institutional level here for ensuring that we have sufficient resources. It’s never enough. I think that’s just the reality. And I don’t think it ever will be, to some degree, I think we’ve tried to promote students being able to create connections with other support resources on campus, kind of at a foundational level. I think we’ve sent out a recommended or optional syllabus statement that people can put on their syllabi, just to kind of do that piece of acknowledging, naming, what’s going on, what’s been different, and being able to normalize some of these experiences and ensure that students know how to access resources. We unfortunately lost a staff person this semester, and are in the process of hiring a new person. But we have been able to bring in some per diem support. We’re also continuing to offer walk-in crisis, “Let’s Talk” which is like a drop-in counseling model. So it’s a very brief intervention. It’s happening in the library and outside of Lakeside dining, and just trying to make it really accessible for students. Those aren’t new, we’ve just tried to make sure that we had those sufficiently staffed. We also have looked at, towards the end of the semester, where we got to a point where we were really thinking we were probably going to have to go to waitlist again this semester, which we’ve only done once in the last six years, and we were able to avoid it by doing half hour initial appointments. And for some students, that was all they needed. And it’s unfortunate that they had to wait for that. But we’re exploring new models right now of being able to create more instant access for students. So trying to get them in within a few days, as opposed to those who are potentially waiting for two weeks.

Kyle: And from the outreach side, I think just doing more mental health education… so running workshops and programs, attending other clubs and organization meetings, just to get the skills out there. So the most widely requested program that we run is all about grounding techniques. And we did that for a few different organizations on campus, which I think was really helpful. And they walk away with some practical skills to help them through tough moments. So I think that’s one way that we’ve tried to engage students in maybe a little bit of a different way, where it’s not clinical services, not everybody’s looking to sit down with a counselor, not everybody’s open to that at this point, but trying to fill in some of the education and skills that they might be able to practice and alleviate some of that pressure. And then obviously, we know some of the research shows that peer connection is so vital for helping people feel supported and safe, and to learn from other people who are in their situation. So as faculty and staff, we’re limited in how much we can connect in that way. We can offer our experiences and our education and knowledge, but students tend to trust other students. And I think that’s a good place for some of our outreach… to move into the direction of expanding our peer educator program and allowing more students to come on board to connect with other students in positive ways. So our peer educator team, which is short for COPE, which is counseling outreach peer educators, they take a three-credit course, they learn a little bit about mental health education, they get a lot of practice in those skills. And then they run their own programming drop-in spaces for students to stop by… just to connect with other students. Because we know that isolation and loneliness is a huge factor in some of these symptoms that present and if we make space and experiences where someone might show up, and they might get a different experience than if they showed up to the counseling center, I think that’s kind of the direction I’m looking at for outreach purposes on campus. And it builds a sense of community. We’re all taking care of each other. And I think that’s really important. It shouldn’t just happen behind closed doors with one person. It can be something where we’re taking care of ourselves overtly in public spaces and feeling safe in that way.

Rebecca: Are there any strategies that you could share that faculty can then share with their students to help manage stress and anxiety throughout the semester?

Kyle: For sure. And I know you’d said before, you’ve been doing those grounding techniques at the start of class. And I do think that that is so important for just helping us in our bodies to settle. We are constantly off running from one thing to the next thing. And I know for myself, I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I know that moving online made back-to-back meetings feel like there was no break. And I think students kind of felt that with their classes as well, it was really tough. So if we can at least introduce those moments, a minute, two minutes, where we just sit, settle together, bring everybody into the present moment, it can be really settling and help our bodies to just calm. So I think enough of those can be really helpful throughout the semester. But I think, for faculty, in their classroom settings, look for those activities that get people to connect with each other, to have little conversations that could be academic and educational, but they could also be some, just distressing, alleviating, how do we take care of each other? How do you take care of yourself? Have those kinds of conversations in the classroom to help people feel like they’re not alone in it. One thing I’ve seen is students look at other students, and they’re like, “They’re doing great, they’re succeeding, and here I am struggling, and I don’t understand why everybody else is doing great.” So I think if you provide space for other students to acknowledge that they might be struggling, too, it helps to alleviate that bigger pressure that someone might be carrying. But there’s a lot of grounding techniques. And I think deep breathing and being able to just bring your body to a settled calm state, especially when we’re in this, like, very big traumatic experience right now, we’re unsettled a lot. So encouraging students to practice those on a regular basis. Even before exams, I would say, maybe run a deep breathing exercise so that students feel present and calm, even in a nerve wracking experience. That’s where I tend to look at for those practical experiences in class.

Kate: I will also add that, I think, being able to reinforce messages that people are allowed to have fun still. They might have to find new ways to have fun. I think there’s that too. But being able to find ways to play and find ways to just have activities that you can enjoy. Students are identifying that they’re incredibly stressed about the academic workload and their ability to concentrate and focus. Helping support them and understanding that there is benefit to taking breaks and doing something that is working a different piece of your mind… that you’re getting a different need met, and then come back a little bit more refreshed and engage in the work again.

Rebecca: …and maybe sleep too? [LAUGHTER]

Kyle: Yeah, that’s always important. yeah.

Kate: Yeah, we can consider some, yeah. And I will say I’m hopeful that next semester, we can resume some sleep hygiene workshops. But I think… I could be mistaken… but I think the peer eds have also provided some sleep hygiene workshops as well.

John: Students aren’t alone in feeling this stress and anxiety. Would some of the advice you just gave about taking breaks and doing other things to work other areas of your mind be also useful for those faculty who are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, and so forth.

Kate: Absolutely. I actually will say for how many community providers, private practitioners, are being tapped and have waitlists, I hope that that’s at least evidence that people have been more willing to engage, that it’s not necessarily about “I’m at a crisis level,” but it’s like, “Okay, I think I will benefit from support and it’s okay for me to ask for help.” I’m hopeful that that’s really what that’s evidence of. But I will say that I think I have had numerous faculty, staff, administrators, reach out to me asking for referrals to community providers, not to make a direct referral, of course, but who might I recommend? And I have no problem doing that. But I think to that point, John, that being able to know that, yeah, we have a responsibility to work and hopefully we can continue to, or resume, finding joy in our work and connection and meaning in our work, of being able to experience other aspects of our life too, that’s really important for us to maintain.

Kyle: I don’t know, at SUNY Oswego, they’ve been running some programs to get faculty and staff connected. So I know that there’s been some writing programs or ones that are focused on nutrition, like cooking, and recipes and things like that. So I think there are those opportunities to connect with other people on campus. If you’re feeling more isolated, and want to try something to help support yourself, learn some new skills. So I know some of those are occurring on campus.

Kate: And one thing we didn’t mention at all throughout this, it’s funny because we’ve been promoting it a lot in other ways is really the value of being in nature. We’re here in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s a little harder to feel like you can enjoy nature in the middle of the winter unless you’re already an outdoor winter sportsy kind of person. But being able to go be in the woods. If you have an opportunity to snowshoe, you have those opportunities. Or if it’s a more moderate climate where you are, and you have the ability to just take a walk. There’s profound benefits to that. That’s really well researched and well documented.

Rebecca: I know last winter, my family spent a lot of time snowshoeing in our mountains of snow. [LAUGHTER] And it was a great way to do something together. We weren’t able to be inside together. So even extended family members would go on these adventures.

Kate: I think that’s awesome. And I also think, for people who don’t necessarily have the ability to do that with someone else, there’s so much sensory stuff that can help ground people and bring them into the present… you know, hearing the crunch of the snow, where you’re feeling the cold hit your skin, like there’s just so much available to you to help you just kind of reset yourself.

Kyle: And I know winter isn’t ideal for a lot of people in that cold is harsh at times. But it does activate our system in a different way. And it helps that reset process take place. So it can be difficult, but some of those moments are really important. And Rice Creek is a great place to start with that too. I mean, they have trails and a lot of spaces that you can adventure outdoors. And I know that they have snowshoes available. So if anybody’s interested, I’d say check that out.

Rebecca: I also really love, Kate, that you were mentioning finding fun in a different way. Some of us like to travel a lot. And I’m not doing that because I have a small child who’s not vaccinated. So the ways that I would normally enjoy winter… which is by leaving it. [LAUGHTER] We started this snowshoeing and then recently… I used to hate puzzles as a kid, but I’m finding them quite enjoyable right now.

Kate: I have to tell you, I have a little bit of nostalgia for when we initially went into lockdown. And we were really limited, and I have two kids who were school aged and we were trying to keep them so they weren’t on screens the whole time. While we’re on screens all day, we can’t wait to be away from them. But, I’ve romanticized a little bit of that initial lockdown period, because we were together as a family, we were really intentional about trying to make the best of it, and doing things like puzzles, as you said, and playing games and baking and just different things. There was so much value that I experienced from that, that I’m looking to figure out well, how do I juxtapose that with sort of resuming what my life used to look like at the same time.

Rebecca: One of the things I wanted to ask both of you about is an increase in suicide awareness, but also, during my classes, a surprising number of students disclosed through an anonymous form that they had considered suicide in the past month. And this was towards the beginning of the semester, which had me a high alert in watching students and then I also ended up having to use my QPR training and ask a couple of students whether or not they had been considering suicide and refer them to resources. So can you talk a little bit about suicide prevention and some of the things that we might need to or should be or required to attend to as faculty members?

Kate: So one thing that has come out as a result of a court case with MIT is the potential responsibility for faculty for failing to intervene with a student who’s disclosed suicidal intent, suicidal plan, that type of thing. And so I think the biggest thing is to be able, at the very least, to consult with someone. A lot of times we find that our disclosures are coming through, at least anecdotally, what I’m hearing from faculty when they consult with us, is that the disclosures are coming through email. And it’s hard because of time-sensitivity challenges in inferring what somebody means and some of those things related to email. So I think a lot of it ends up being about being very explicit. So I’m glad that you gave the example Rebecca of asking somebody if they’re thinking about killing themselves, because that explicit language doesn’t leave room for things to be unclear or someone to fail to demonstrate due diligence related to connecting somebody to support who may be at significant risk of harm to themselves. So I think again, explicit language being a piece of that, it’s very uncomfortable, and it doesn’t really stop being uncomfortable. But, I think we become more affirmed and confident about what we’re doing. And so again, QPR, or Safe Talk or Mental Health First Aid, there’s a lot of trainings that are out there on different campuses that will support people learning to have those conversations but again, knowing at the very least who you can consult with or who you can refer to: the counseling center on campus, the Dean of Students Office, potentially, those types of things I think are readily accessible. I think about adjunct faculty who might not know about resources on our campus. Oswego is a campus that has signed on to what’s called the ConcernCenter. Ours is branded as Concern Navigator, but it’s a great opportunity for people to kind of warehouse resources and information about where to refer students when you’re not necessarily familiar, but you can generally Google search within your campus website, what those resources are going to be. Additionally, I actually think this is going to be mandated at some point, but student ID cards are now being printed with crisis and suicide prevention hotline numbers on thebacks of them, in addition to the college counseling center phone numbers or website, so that’s helpful, too.

Rebecca: I didn’t know that. That’s cool.

John: We always end with the question, “What’s next?” …a question which has been on our mind a lot the last couple years.

Kyle: Well, I think from my outreach perspective, my clinical perspective, I think it’s continuing to find ways to support people and adapting to the situations that continually are changing. So I think that is something that we’ve gotten very used to, in trying to adapt to constant changes procedures in how the world is operating. But I think the more that we’re looking at building a sense of community around wellness and support, that becomes so vital in these times, because as the systems are changing, and having to deal with all of these changes, we still have a lot of people out there who are struggling, and a lot of people out there who are worried about people in their lives. So I think the more that we allow for that information to spread out and people to feel more confident asking those kinds of questions. So going through QPR training, for example, or just learning a little bit more about mental health in general, the more that they’ll feel confident to ask questions, to give support to people who might be struggling. And I think that’s kind of the direction that I’m looking at is how do we allow for more people to be a part of this helping process and to do it confidently, because I know a lot of people are worried about saying the wrong thing, or not knowing how to handle something. But I know a lot of students who are great listeners, and they are very supportive to their friends, and they care deeply, and they want to make sure that they’re doing a good job. So, I think that’s a direction that I’m looking at is: How do we build that even if it’s less formalized, structured, but just giving people the information and education that they need to make those decisions for themselves?

Kate: Yeah, and I’ll add that I think we continue to look at how we best meet our students’ needs. And I will tell you, I think we are on the verge of seeing a massive transformation in how we deliver these types of resources and supports on campus, because it’s not sustainable the way that we’re doing it. And I do think back to Kyle’s mention of developing community, I think figuring out how we all take some ownership in supporting student mental health, not necessarily through added responsibilities, because people have enough to do, we know that, but being able to figure out how does it dovetail with what people are already doing, or identifying the ways that people are positively contributing to the student mental health and doing more of that, or folks supporting their colleagues and being able to do that, and just having more conversations around that, about how we take the community-based, almost a public health perspective, on setting up our institutions in a way that really is addressing this need. Regardless of whether it’s warranted or not, the need is there. Is it because students have less coping skills? As we originally talked about, there’s a ton of debate about the causal piece of all of this, but the bottom line is, they do need our support. There’s evidence of that. They’re seeking it, and we don’t have enough of it to offer. So what are the other ways in which we can continue doing that? And how does everyone take some ownership of that?

Rebecca: Well, thank you both, Kate and Kyle, for your insights into what’s going on and some strategies to continue supporting our communities.

Kate: Thank you.

Kyle: Thanks for having us.

John: Thank you both.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.