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How universities equip stakeholders to build a culture of campus well-being with in-the-moment resources

August 3, 2023

Faculty, staff, and students are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress. A recent survey by the American Council on Education found that the mental health of employees and students ranked among the top concerns of university leaders.

Counseling centers are working tirelessly to support the overwhelming rates of distress on campus, but it has become clear that the counseling center alone cannot support the mental health of the entire campus community.

To scale support across campus, institutions are increasingly equipping faculty, staff, and students with resources that empower them to engage in building a campus-wide culture of care.

One type of resource that we’ve heard is simple, yet incredibly helpful, is an in-the-moment guide for engaging with and supporting fellow campus community members experiencing distress.

Read on for some of our favorite examples of this type of resource and learn how you can use them to create a culture of care on your campus.

Stanford University’s Red Folder offers campus-specific guidance for supporting student well-being

Faculty and staff frequently encounter students in need of additional mental health and well-being support, but many do not feel they have the resources they need to navigate these interactions with students.

To ensure faculty and staff are equipped to approach and assist students in distress, consider offering a guide that prepares them for conversations with students about mental health, and is easy to use and reference in-the-moment.

Stanford University’s Red Folder is an excellent example of this type of resource. Through the virtual Red Folder, faculty and staff can easily access guidance on their role in student mental health, including how to set boundaries and appropriately connect students to further help. The Red Folder also provides sample scripting of what faculty or staff might say during a real conversation with a student.

What you can say

This is not a script, but rather examples of what you might say in a conversation with a student. It is important that you use language that feels natural to you and fits the context of your interaction with the student.

Say what you see

“Hi ______, I just wanted to check in. I’ve noticed _______, and wanted to see if you want to talk about it.”

“I’ve noticed ______ and I want you to know that I am here to support you.”

“You seem distracted today. What’s going on?”

“Hey, it seems like you’re having a hard time. I am here to support you if you want to talk about it.”

Show you care

“I care about your well-being, so I just wanted to check in to see how you’re doing. I want to know how I can be the most helpful for you.”

“Thanks for taking some times to talk with me. I wanted to have this conversation because I care about how you’re doing and want you to know that I’m here to support you in the ways you need.”

“How can I be helpful?”

Hear them out

Focus on listening. If questions are helpful:

“Wow, I’d like to hear more about that.”

“I’m sorry, that seems like a difficult situation to be in, what is that like for you?”

“That sounds really hard, how is that affecting your life?”

Know your role

I really appreciate you opening up to me…

I’m sorry you’re going through this, and honored that you’ve been vulnerable with me….

“It’s ok to feel like this…”

“How can I be helpful?”

Connect to help

“Thank you for being so open with me. I want to continue this conversation, and I also want to make sure that you’re getting the help you need. I really think you may find ______ to be a very helpful and comforting resource.”

“Reaching out to ______ for the first time can be a little confusing. Would you like help connecting to ______ ?”

“I really think ________ can address some of your needs, but sometimes it takes several tries to find a place that is the best fit. For any reason if it doesn’t feel like a match, then ask what other resources may be a better fit for your needs.”

Tip: Offering the name of someone from the resource can help the student to feel more comfortable when they reach out.

Adapted from Stanford University Student Affairs. See the full Red Folder here.

UBC’s Orange Folder provides faculty and staff advice for approaching and supporting colleagues in distress

In addition to being on the front lines of supporting student mental health and well-being, faculty and staff are also often the first to see signs of a colleague who may be experiencing distress or may even be approached by a colleague in need of support.

To aid faculty and staff in supporting each other, UBC created the Orange Folder—a virtual resource which offers actionable, direct guidance for identifying and responding to colleagues who may be distressed.

This resource emphasizes that faculty and staff are not responsible for diagnosing or treating a mental health issue, but they can be invaluable in referring colleagues to support services and helping them understand what’s available. Additionally, the folder helps users determine their colleagues’ distress level, from high-risk to low-risk and includes a roadmap of appropriate resources for each level.

Use EAB’s reference guide to create your own folder to help faculty refer their colleagues to support.

Access the Tool

JED Foundation provides general guidance about approaching and supporting distressed students

If you do not have the time or capacity to create a resource folder like the Red Folder, the Jed Foundation’s Faculty Guide to Supporting Student Mental Health can serve as an immediate resource for faculty, and staff. Although it does not provide guidance about campus-specific resources and next steps, it does provide advice about how to recognize a student struggling, and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of approaching a student in need of additional support.

Read the Guide

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