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How to Encourage Student Help-Seeking Behavior

Episode 159

July 25, 2023 30 minutes


In this second of a three-part series focused on student mental health, EAB’s Ed Venit, Lindsay Schappell, and Matt Mustard share ways to encourage and support help-seeking behavior by students. The three touch on the role of technology, the importance of promoting self-service resources effectively, and how to follow up with students to see what additional help they might appreciate.

They also offer tips to university leaders on how to engage students and support them along their journey to becoming more self-reliant.



0:00:11.7 Speaker 1: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today’s episode is the second in a three-part series focused on ways to boost student mental health. Our guests share tips on how to support and encourage help-seeking behaviors by students. Give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:33.0 EV: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Office Hours with EAB. My name is Ed Venit. I’m a managing director of research here, and I have done a lot of work on student success over the years. Today’s the second in an… Excuse me. Today’s episode is the second in a series we’re doing to explore some of the mental health challenges on campus and what we’re doing to address those, what students are facing as they emerge from the pandemic, and how we can help them achieve their educational goals. Now, we’ve already recorded an episode focused on the eight dimensions of wellness. I highly recommend you go check that one out. Today, we’re going to go and talk about another aspect of what colleges can be doing to help students, and whether that’s to help them help themselves, so-called help-seeking behavior. How can you encourage someone, well, to ask for help and accept it, and then learn to do that more in the future?

0:01:25.2 EV: This is a big part of what I’ve learned in my mental health journey, is just sort of understanding myself better and knowing when I need to reach out to someone else and get a little bit of either encouragement or maybe a little bit of a kick in the butt sometimes, depending on what it is. But regardless, you’re not going through this sort of thing alone, and there’s a lot of people around you who care for you, help you, are available be able to help you, and may be able to really kind of change your life. So I want to start with a little bit of level studying. We talked about this in the prior episode, but I’m just going to bring it back in case this is the first one you’re hearing. And then I’m going to introduce… Let some colleagues introduce themselves, I should say, and then we’ll get into a little bit more of the details around help-seeking.

0:02:07.2 EV: So why do we care so much about mental health and student success? This has been a challenge that was growing for years before the pandemic, but it was never really really on our radar as a high-level success challenge, at least not for most of us. There were certainly people out there that were saying this was a big deal. And as we described in the prior podcast, that success can often be thought of as kind of a three-legged stool. We worry about students’ academic success, we worry about the financial component thereof, and we worry about whether or not they feel a sense of belongingness on campus, whether or not they fit in. I suggested that we add a fourth leg, which is student success. And Matt Mustard, who will come on in the podcast in just a moment, pointed out that maybe that was a little bit more like an exercise ball because all of these things go together.

0:02:53.8 EV: I’m not really… You can think about them separately, but you really perhaps shouldn’t. So what are some of the challenges that we’re seeing from students emerging from the pandemic in terms of why we now think mental health is just so important for the success challenge and something that needs to be added into your exercise ball, if you will? And that’s consistent data we’ve been seeing from a surveying done by Gallup and Lumina. Roughly six months into the pandemic, they started asking students on a number of different reasons, had you considered leaving school over these six months because of, and then fill in the blank. There were a number of different things they asked about. You can imagine what some of them are.

0:03:32.8 EV: I’m worried about getting COVID. I don’t like online learning, whatever it might be. One of the things that was veering here at the top of the list was I’ve considered leaving school, stopping out because of emotional stress. It’s something we should take note of. We don’t have a prior number to compare it to. So these numbers are just sort of wrong to survey themselves. But it was roughly a quarter of two-year students and 42% of four-year students were saying that just six months into the pandemic. This would have been concerning enough. And like I said, we don’t have a prior number to compare to, but those numbers were right at the top of the list. What became very concerning was when we saw those numbers from the next year. In the next year at Gallup, this was 18 months after the pandemic started, Gallup went back and asked the same questions. And they saw some differences.

0:04:19.7 EV: Students were far less worried about getting COVID. We were well into the vaccination era at that point. They were a little bit more concerned about their academics. But one of the things that shot way up was their concerns around emotional stress. 18 months in from the pandemic, almost two-thirds of two-year students and three-quarters of four-year students were saying they considered leaving school in the prior three months due to emotional stress. We just got the numbers. They did it again in fall ’22. We just got those numbers from that survey and they haven’t really changed. So that exercise ball that we’re talking about, that student success exercise ball, mental health and wellbeing is a huge part of that now. And it doesn’t seem to be changing. This isn’t just simply going back to what it was before the pandemic.

0:05:04.9 EV: We as student success professionals are going to have to spend a lot more time, effort thinking about this sort of thing. And in response, we at EAB, the people that care about student success at EAB, which is really all of us, but we have a large team that’s devoted to it, have been working in kind of an ad hoc task force to bring forth a lot of our expertise around mental health and wellness and apply it to our offerings. In other words, what more can we do for you with the tools, services and such that we already have to help you along this journey? You are our partners. Now, two of the folks in this task force are going to jump in and introduce themselves in a moment. And I’m absolutely grateful to have them both along on the podcast today, but also on this journey. They’re very knowledgeable and very wonderful people. And I’ve learned so much from them. So first, I’m going to start off with Lindsay Schappell. Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do around here and where your intersection is with this work.

0:06:02.7 Lindsay Schappell: Thanks, Ed. First of all, thank you so much for having me. I am a avid podcast listener, so it’s very fun to be on one myself today. When I’m not listening to podcasts, I am fully employed as a Navigate strategic leader, which means that I have the privilege of working alongside schools that partner with us on Navigate to help them create strategic plans around their student success work, to help them prioritize initiatives that will further their student success efforts on campus. I love what I get to do currently. Prior to EAB, I worked as a clinical social worker in a variety of settings. Everything from working in homelessness to high school counseling, to supportive housing, psychiatric hospitals, sort of a whole smattering of experiences there. And I often say, I work at EAB, but I am a social worker. So being a part of this project, being a member of this task force has been truly an intersection of not just my passions, my education but also something that I think is really important for us to bring to the forefront of the conversation in the student success world now. So thank you. Thank you. For having me.

0:07:18.0 EV: Of course. We’re happy to have you. The third person along with us today is Matt Mustard, a colleague I’ve had for a long time at EAB. Matt, jump in and and tell us a little bit about what you do and where your intersection is with this work.

0:07:30.6 Matt Mustard: Thanks, Ed. Long time listeners. Second time caller, Matt Mustard. Very glad to be with y’all today. Thank you again for having me. As Lindsay had shared, very passionate about the work that I get to do here at EAB, where we are encouraged to bring not just our professional interests, but our personal passions as well. Similar to Lindsay, I am thrilled to work alongside of both my peers and my partners as we struggle with these difficult conversations of what it does mean to show up in an ethical and, of course, HIPAA protected way for our students in their times of need, alongside of what it means to still hold those traditional conversations and educational journeys that we’ve gone on to be those campus professionals today. Prior to being at EAB I worked at a non-profit focused on college mental health and wellness. And prior to that, engaged in some crisis counseling work and behavioral intervention. So very much the Venn diagram for Lindsay and I and this work, as we think about intersection, more a circle than a Venn diagram, and we are excited to really see those interests come together as we think about encouraging our partners to help their students connect to resources in particular.

0:08:44.4 EV: Thanks, Matt. And if you, as a listener have listened to the first podcast, we called out, and I’ll just call out again, that we say we can’t simply hire our way out of the mental health challenge. Counselors are in short supply, they’re burned out, they’re overworked. And if you are a campus that isn’t in an area with a great supply of them, you may have a hard time filling out the ranks and creating the human capacity that you need to support one-on-one counseling. Now, oftentimes in my conversations with student success leaders, this might be the only thing or the primary thing they think is driving mental health on campus. As these conversations that I’ve had internally and we’re trying to share with you today, being these podcasts is that, well, that’s, it’s not really true. There’s a lot we can do to support student mental health and wellness. Thought about even more broadly, one of the things we can do is encourage students to help themselves. This is help-seeking behavior. Now, I’m in an unusual situation here because usually when I’m in a conversation about student success, I know a little bit about it. And in this case, I don’t know much about this at all. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from you two. So I would like to turn it over to you. Lindsay, tell us a little bit about what help-seeking behavior is, and we’ll talk a little bit about the role technology can play as well.

0:10:08.4 LS: That’s great, Ed. Yeah, I’d be happy to talk a little bit about that. So, help-seeking behavior is exactly what it sounds like. It’s empowering students to get the help they need to be successful. One thing that we’ve learned about this generation of college students is that they are not shy in asking for help. In fact, they are expecting more services for help than ever before. In some respects, by empowering students to empower themselves we are actually meeting them right where they are, which is critical. Help-seeking behavior, also can be really important, not just around the concept of wellness, but also because it is an important tool or important set of skills that a student can develop that will help them even beyond the walls of your institution.

0:10:54.8 LS: In fact our research has shown that there’s four primary benefits that students experience from truly building and developing their help seeking skills. Not only does it help them get the resources they need, but it also helps them overcome challenges. If students have a high level of help-seeking behavior or initiative, it can increase achievement and confidence, which will overall boost their mental health. The other thing it can help the student do is increase their learning engagement. So when we think about this tool or this exercise ball, which is a wonderful analogy, we want students to feel engaged in their learning. And so by promoting a help-seeking behavior, by empowering students to get the support they need, we’re actually increasing their engagement with us and with the community.

0:11:43.8 LS: It allows the student to help build supportive relationships. So if a student is reaching out, asking for help we’re helping them foster connection with those that they might not otherwise be connected with. And then the last thing that research has shown being a critical component or a critical byproduct of help-seeking behavior is the ability for students to acquire new skills. If they’re taking the initiative to raise their hand and say, “Hey, I need help with X, Y, Z,” they might learn a few things along the way about who they are and what they’re capable of. So this is a concept that is not just important for helping satisfy or quell students’ emotional wellness. This will help them holistically in their journey, even beyond your institution’s walls.

0:12:29.0 EV: Lindsay, I wanna ask a quick follow up to this because someone listening might say, okay, I get what you’re saying here, but isn’t there a danger here between encouraging students to seek their own, their help and going so far as to saying and it’s all your problem, it’s not our problem. In that regard, how do you strike that balance between those two things? Or how would you address that pushback?

0:12:54.4 LS: Yeah, that’s a really great question and one, inevitably I’ve been asked every single time that we start talking about help-seeking behavior. I have a couple of thoughts on this one. The first one is that if you listened to our eight dimensions podcast hopefully one of your primary takeaways is that actually the concept of student wellness is really everyone’s job. And if we think of encouraging help-seeking behaviors as a component of helping students with their wellness. Then, I’m sorry to say, but it is your job [chuckle] to help promote this kind of thing on campus. The second thing I’ll add to that is that what we know about Gen Z is that they live in the palm of their hands. Meaning that this is a generation that is more likely to order a pizza through the Domino’s app than ever call their local Domino’s store to get it delivered. I can relate in some fashion to that, as I don’t know that when the last time was that I called to order a pizza. But what I think is most important is that this is a group of students that is already used to having on demand help ready for them when they need it. And I think we are able to provide that for them in this setting too. By meeting them where they’re at, by helping them, help themselves, we’re able to open doors for them that we previously couldn’t, and be able to build relationships and connections really quickly with our students.

0:14:29.2 EV: I’ll add that Domino’s is not a sponsor of this podcast, but Domino’s, if you’re out there, call us.

0:14:35.1 LS: [laughter] Yeah, we’re willing and open to it.

0:14:38.0 EV: Especially if we get paid in pizzas. Matt, tell us a little bit about, we just heard a little bit from Lindsay about for the student aspect of this, what is help-seeking and what are we trying to accomplish with students? Tell us some areas where universities and colleges can help normalize this help seeking behavior among those students.

0:14:57.2 MM: Absolutely, and I think that really is key. We often talk about at EAB, this trifecta of people, process and technology. I think a lot of times the temptation is, let’s get a new thing or do a new thing without really opening up the hood and seeing how the car actually works today. That is the extent of car metaphors I’ll use because that is the extent of my knowledge. But hold that in mind and let’s keep going from there. If we are not engaged in thinking about who we want to be as an institution in this post pandemic world, and you can probably feel the air quotes of me using post pandemic, we’re speeding up behaviors that did not serve students prior, nor will they after. So if we’re not thinking about how we’re de-stigmatizing and normalizing the fact that college is hard, this is a different and kind world in which students are living than any generation that has come before and in a period of their life that they have no context for our students that are coming fresh out of high school or time away between.

0:16:00.3 MM: So it is our job as educators to help our students understand the things that they’re going through, not just on our campus, but in their life more broadly. The average age of onset for noticeable mental illness, illnesses, excuse me, is between 18 and 24. That age range might sound very familiar for those playing along at home. That is the bell curve of your almost entire student body. So thinking through that age, thinking through who we were as people, we likely, well, I’ll use eye language. I did not know the bursar was not someone’s last name until I was taught that the bursar is a role and not person. And I tongue in cheek and folks that know me know I’ll poke fun itself if given the opportunity. But I say that to tee up the more important part of the temptation of assuming that our students know how to navigate the system that was not really built for the students today that we serve. So how are we thinking about taking a step back, combating the look to the left, look to the right, one of you will be gone by the end of term? Those inhospitable and demotivational-isms that exist on campus. The either inability to access services, services only existing from 9:00 to 5:00, us not having tech ready solutions, to Lindsay’s point, and I was just updating my Domino’s app prior to the podcast.

0:17:27.9 MM: I’ve not needed to pick up the phone and call in a way that I did during undergrad. That is not a skill or need that exists in the world today that it did 10 years ago or more realistically 20 years ago when I was in college. So if our students do not understand the sensations, the cognitions, the struggles that they are anticipating and actually running up against if they cannot find services on campus, most crucially, if those services do not exist. In working with students and working with those that serve our students, one of the truisms that I have run into is that it does more harm to ask a question of who needs help and either be unwilling or unable to meet that need. So always think with the end in mind of what can we support? How do we make sure that we are making the diagnosis of need easy, the connection of student to service that much simpler, and we are building towards who we’d want to be tomorrow, not how we used to operate yesterday. ‘Cause our students, and you’ll remember this quote from last round, our students are more willing to sacrifice their anonymity with the expectation of service than any generation prior. So they’re willing and wanting to engage in the behaviors that we want them to engage with. We have to make sure they are built in the way that they need and in a situation and world in which we can actually support those services.

0:18:55.0 EV: All right, thank you Matt. I started off by saying that this conversation today was born out of a task force that we have internally that we put together around our student success offerings. What are we already doing for our campus partners, and their ability to support student success. And we asked ourselves the question of what could we do more of around wellness. Now Navigate is one of our student success technologies and it has a feature called Hand Raise, which is immediately germane to help-seeking behavior. Matt, I’m wondering if you can give us a little walkthrough of what Navigate is if those who are not familiar, though of course, plenty of people on this in this podcast who are familiar, and then specifically the Hand Raise feature itself. What does it do? Why do you think it might be useful here? And why we’d like partners to hopefully do a little bit more of it?

0:19:45.4 MM: Absolutely. Happy to jump in there. The way I would encourage folks to think about the Hand Raise Feature or the tech that enables that process is to remember that our students are only in our offices or on campus a third of their day. So thinking through the nine to five that most of our offices are open, they still have two thirds of their lives to live. So the idea behind Hand Raise is to make sure that when they’re leaving their shift at 2:00 AM or they are commuting from their nine to five, to our either virtual or on campus classes that there exists, not just the ability to schedule and of course, Navigate in the Navigate Student App, easy and old hand at that, but also signal need that exists maybe without possessing the language by which to articulate it. And what I mean by that and what that looks like, a “Hand Raise” could be for a student that knows they need some sort of financial assistance to continue at college, but they don’t know either how to navigate the website. Maybe financial aid isn’t in Navigate yet.

0:20:54.1 MM: And maybe shameless plug to our earlier podcast thinking about the holistic areas that we can support our students in. This is a student’s appeal to be contacted or immediately get information back from the institution in an area in which they’re struggling. It could be roommate conflict, it could be help paying for college. It could be submitting a form or requesting a form to change a major, you name it. And it could be as transactional as, I need more information or as transformative of Connect me to a person that can assist in this way, even if I don’t know how to fully articulate what that need is just yet. So it is that automation between service seeker and service provider that we’re able to set up behind the scenes have ready to go for when students need us to scale the support we can provide.

0:21:45.8 EV: Yeah, I’m very excited by this feature. It’s one of the newer things that we’ve made available in Navigate, and so when we’re asking partners to pick us up on this some of them may be discovering it for the first time. I think it’s got a lot of potential for doing just a lot around success. Lindsay, you have some partners who have already begun to enable Hand Raise and make it available to students. I’d love to hear some stories about what you’ve heard partners doing or planning to do with Hand Raise since it’s become available.

0:22:18.7 LS: Yeah. So you are absolutely right, Ed. I do have some partners that have already rolled this out because they were so excited by the potential and the capabilities of this. One of the first pieces of feedback I always hear from partners after launching Hand Raise is how wonderful it is to have an automated system that sends students the messages they need when they ask for them. I’ll give an example. Matt talked about earlier how students are not always asking for help. When we are working in our offices, more often than not students are looking for support at 9 O’clock at night, 10 O’clock at night. And having the ability to provide resources immediately when a student raises their hand has been huge in not just helping students, but also helping staff efficiencies. For each Hand Raise that a student uses to ask a question about financial aid or ask a question about how to get support for their parking pass. That’s one less email that advisors or student success staff or others on campus, we will walk in the morning, which is helpful. We talked about this a little bit in our previous podcast, but as there’s been a lot of shift in not just counseling center staff, there’s also been shift in support staff across campuses.

0:23:45.7 LS: So being able to scale the reach and help improve staff efficiencies through Hand Raise has been extremely helpful. I’m seeing a lot of campuses customize their Hand Raise alerts or notifications in a lot of really unique ways. They’re using a lot of student-centered language. So gone are the days where they’re using highly technical terms to describe offices or support. They’re written in the ways that students would answer them. So for example, students are raising their hand to say, I need help with my roommate, or I need help paying for college, or I don’t understand how to fill out this form so that students can pretty quickly, easily, and easily recognize what it is that their need is and how it can be met. If I were to dilute to the functionality to maybe it’s least impactful form, I would think of it almost as a frequently asked questions. And interactive frequently asked questions page it can obviously be more than that.

0:24:48.5 LS: But I think some of the ways I’ve seen Hand Raise best leveraged is by turning those questions that students come by your office to ask you ad hoc all throughout the day into a way for them to be able to access themselves and get an immediate response to has made students feel heard students feel responded to. And also help staff feel like they can actually get to the meat of their work because they’re not constantly answering those questions throughout their day. So a lot of great things. I think there’s gonna be even more creative ways partners are leveraging this across the fall as we set it up across the summer. So I look forward if you are an institution that is currently using Hand Raise, I’m sure Ed and Matt and I would love to hear more about the ways you’re leveraging it too.

0:25:34.1 EV: Yeah. Thanks Lindsay. I was struck with what you said right there about the responses in this angle. It can go a long way with a student if in fact, the Hand Raise is enabled to have a human response to the other end of it. You’re automated frequently asked questioned things. You know, I could see why that would be super valuable if you were a student like me who is up at 3 O’clock in the morning doing whatever and had a problem, Wanted to get an answer to it. But then there’s also that element of someone cared enough about me to respond to my problem. I mean, if we just think about any customer service issue that we have, and they called me back I asked for help and they called me back. That’s amazing. It makes me feel so good about that service or company or whatever it is that I was engaging with. I’m sure many in the audience would love for students to have that feel and relationship with their institution. This is a great way to promote that and promote that connection.

0:26:29.8 EV: Folks, I’ve been really excited to learn a lot about Hand Raise as a feature, but also to hear you talk about, help-seeking behavior in general. Final thoughts on my end about this is, this is an efficiency play. When you think about the funnel, if you will, from a student having an issue to a student having a resolution, there are a lot of steps that can go into that process. And some of the traditional ways we thought about early morning or academically alerts or whatever it might be, going back now, 15, 20 years, have all involved kind of a middle person. Usually it’s a faculty member, academic advisor. Somebody has to see that student do something, or see something they’re concerned about, report it and then have a follow up. Hand Raise is exciting to me ’cause it cuts out that middle. It’s gonna get the student saying, I am, me, hello I need the help, right here. And get connected directly to that person who can help them or that information if it’s automated in that way, that can help them. That to me is very exciting ’cause it increases the efficacy of the system. If it’s something that we can help promote for students, then well it just seems like a win all around. Matt, Lindsay, thank you so much for joining us for this podcast today. Any final thoughts, on our way out?

0:27:45.5 MM: If you’re gonna hand me a pot, I’m gonna stir it. The push again that I would give is to make sure that while we are absolutely making those efficiency plays, we’re thinking about those systems and the processes that live underneath. To ensure our ability to serve and support our students, and then to automate that support. So I am…

0:28:04.0 EV: Yeah, very…

0:28:04.9 MM: Thrilled and excited to see where this goes. And I won’t continue to belabor that point.

0:28:10.3 EV: Sorry for jumping in right there, but I was, reminded of the caution that we got, which was, if you’re gonna do Hand Raise and students asking for help, they better get it. Someone has to be responding to them on the other end, or else they can become very discouraging. We wanted to call that out for the audience as well as they’re thinking about this. Lindsay, any final thoughts you wanna jump in?

0:28:31.0 LS: Similar to you, Ed and to Matt, I’m really excited about this. This has fit a very real need for many of those that I work with in my partnership. So I’m thankful for the time today to talk about this and look forward to hearing how institutions continue to leverage this, not just to help with some efficiency things, but ultimately to be able to help their students, and provide, support in very real timed ways.

0:29:06.1 EV: Well Matt, Lindsay, thank you again, not only for joining the podcast today, but being… For being such active and useful participants in our working group. I’ve learned so much from the two of you as well as others on the team, and I’m very grateful it’s making my work better, as I go, as well as, making me think a lot about myself and my own wellbeing. Just appreciate that all around. Thank very much for your time today and just overall thank you for being my colleague.

0:29:32.0 MM: Thanks for having us. This is great.

0:29:34.0 LS: It is great. Thank you. Thank you Ed. It’s a privilege and a pleasure, always.


0:29:43.2 S1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week for the last, in this three part series on student mental Health. Next week’s episode is focused on ways to help students build a sense of community and belongingness with your institution. Until next week, thank you for your time.

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