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New Approaches for Managing Student Mental Health Crises

Episode 125

October 25, 2022 40 minutes


EAB’s Brooke Thayer joins Matt Mustard to talk about how schools are managing student mental health crises. The two urge university leaders to reexamine everything from student outreach to how counseling centers are staffed to whether campus security is using the right de-escalation techniques.

Matt and Brooke also discuss the importance of developing differentiated response models to keep students safe and supported while leading with empathy.



0:00:12.4 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today, we contrast existing protocols with emerging best practices in terms of managing student mental health crises, from staffing counselling centers, to teaching de-escalation techniques to campus security, to developing a differentiated response model. There are dozens of potential weaknesses that must be addressed in order to keep your students safe and supported, give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:47.6 Brooke Thayer: Hello, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Brooke Thayer, and I’m a Director in EAB’s Research Division. And today we’re gonna be talking about an issue that should be top of mind for staff and leaders across every single college campus, how to help students who are experiencing mental health crises. And joining me today is my colleague, Matt Mustard. And Matt, would you mind introducing yourself and helping us set some context around the extent of the student mental health challenge on college campuses today?

0:01:18.8 Matt Mustard: Happy to, and thanks for having me, Brooke. My name is Matt Mustard. I’m one of our senior directors here at EAB. My background in student mental health is both from working at a student mental health non-profit directly on campus, both in Residence Life and in coordination with our counselling centers, and then most recently for the better part of a decade here at EAB on our partner success team, so directly working with our Academic and Advising leadership to think through student success and retention, and I make that last plug because it’s been a really interesting shift as folks have started moving away from the definition of success not just being the presence or absence of the student next term, but how prepared and how supported they are for the life that comes after graduation, and as far as the actual… Gosh, we all are thinking about student mental health right now, the thing that I would reinforce and just kick off for our listeners today to consider is that the pandemic didn’t make students’ mental health a crisis, but a conversation. It helped us actually come to terms with, see raw data for, and face the harsh realities that we haven’t been equipped for the demands that have persisted far before the pandemic to actually serve and support students in the ways that they need today, and they’ll continue to need tomorrow. So I’m excited to join today and eager to hear what we get into.

0:02:43.8 BT: Wonderful. Well, thanks so much, Matt. Clearly a big urgent and important topic for campus leaders, and I’m excited to get your perspective coming from both sides of things, having worked on a campus and then also through your work at EAB and that success lens. I think it’s really important perspective to share with our listeners.

0:03:01.8 MM: Absolutely, and I’m honestly eager to pick your brain too. I know you are deep in our research. I have stuck my toes in those waters, but far more and beyond me, you are that person that I will be asking questions of in that realm, one of the things that I’ve run into a lot on campus is, yes, we know that our counselling centers exist, we know that we have great counsellors, but the thing that I’ve been butting up against quite often with our academic leadership on campus is this feeling of burnout, this feeling of, gosh, maybe we don’t have all the people we need. And I know that’s been research that you’ve done prior, I’m wondering if you can help me understand and our listeners understand what those shortages and what those gaps actually look like.

0:03:45.1 BT: Yeah, this is a great question, Matt. I have been heading up EAB’s research around talent writ large, and as I’m sure many of our listeners know and have probably been experiencing over the last year or two, are staff shortages, really pose big challenges when it comes to delivering on student support services of all kinds, and counselling centers, and also campus safety, campus police units too here have not been unscathed by current staffing challenges. In fact, I’ve talked to a couple of schools that have said, and these have been some of the units hardest hit by turnover, and also places where they’re struggling to build a large competitive applicant pool, one chief business officer from a regional institution in the middle of the country recently told me they had double-digit openings in their campus HD and police unit, and had received applications in the single digits, so not even enough folks applying to fill their roles.

0:04:41.3 BT: Now, on the counselling side of things, I think that’s an especially challenging area, many schools were experiencing some understaffing issues in their counselling centers even prior to the last couple of years, pre-pandemic, pre-great resignation. And so this hypercompetitive labor market has only exacerbated the problem, and so one of the exercises my research team has gone through recently is actually running a job description analysis here, and we were trying to gauge, well, how do counselling jobs in higher ed differ from those out of sector?

0:05:15.0 BT: And is that contributing to some of the staffing challenges we’re seeing, some of the burnout, some of the recruitment and retention issues? And the big finding here was, yes, after comparing in and out of sector job descriptions for mental health counsellors, we found that interestingly, higher ed actually tended to offer a slightly higher base salary, so about 2% more than private sector counterparts, which was interesting in and of itself because higher ed is not known perhaps for being able to compete as much on compensation, but despite that higher base salary, higher ed was also two times more likely than out of sector competitors to require a PhD for these roles. And so the barriers to entry are a little bit higher here. And on top of that, the job descriptions themselves in higher ed were 92% longer than out of sector counselling job descriptions, and maybe most importantly, a university spent about 18% fewer words on the employee value proposition, meaning why folks should apply to and work as a counsellor in higher ed versus out of sector, and I think that’s especially important to keep in mind here because our counselling staff have other options, they’re in high demand across the board, it’s not just higher ed who are looking to hire these folks, and for many of them, the benefit of working on a campus maybe isn’t exactly obvious, we need to do a better job articulating that.

0:06:44.2 BT: So just a few findings from some of our work here. I think the big takeaway for campus leaders on this front is to really be assessing what are those critical goals we have on our campus, like counselling staff, and looking at the job descriptions, taking the time to ensure that we’re casting a wider net, that we’re making the case for why they should come to work in higher ed. So certainly something to be keeping an eye on I think for a leader, is that it gets a little bit of the staffing question, but I’d love to pick your brain, Matt, on how institutions have approached or handled response to you, kind of mental health crisis on campus historically, what has been the status… Well, for how staff handle these types of situations?

0:07:26.0 MM: Sure, and thank you for that context around staffing. I will admit, I took some notes during that, it is super interesting to think about that parity of pay even. That’s so interesting. Your question’s interesting too, because I’ve seen a shift. I would say prior to the pandemic starting, I would have one answer, and though it’s not a dichotomous night and day change, I am really hopeful to see some of the tweaks that are more progressive colleges are taking to think about a student-first approach. So in the before times in DC before COVID, a lot of what I saw on campus and what I’ve heard from our partners that I’ve worked with is very much a… Well, we have a counselling center, let’s just send students there. Some folks have done the old adage of, “I take my student by the hand and I walk them across campus, or I walk them down the hall.” That of course much, much harder in the last few years, but, that if I had to… For the sake of our time and our listeners’ time to encapsulate the before times, it was a, “We know they exist, so let’s push them that way,” and there was a lot of, “It’s not my job, it’s not my responsibility,” which I take as more of a…

0:08:41.4 MM: I don’t know how to fill that space, and I am too scared to say or do the wrong thing, more so than any kind of shirking of responsibility, so just clearing that up from the get-go. The intent is positive, but I think the actual education and support of those folks wasn’t there historically. And similar to the plug that I made at the start, I think that’s one of those harsh realities that we sat with during the pandemic of the sheer number of our students turning to their faculty for support, faculty being the most exposed staff person on campus in these students’ lives, they would go to that person, they’re habituated to ask questions in class, and so those questions bled over into, “I don’t know what to do with this feeling that I’m having,” and our faculty similarly reporting, “Gosh, I don’t know what to do when I hear that.” And then, of course, the next step is, “What do I say? What do I do? If I say the wrong thing, then what happens?” And so I’ve seen this really neat shift at Stanford Red Folder, is a great example of college administration equipping their faculty with some if-then type statements, so if you see something that kinda gets your Spidey senses tingling that a student may need additional support, then here is how you can approach that student and show that you care and get them in touch with the right service, and that’s normally balanced with a clear articulation of what is and isn’t part of our role, and if I had to summarize…

0:10:11.6 MM: Goodness, excuse me, some of those articulations, they are things like, “You do not need to be perfect, but we do want you to be present for our students,” and there is nothing wrong in saying that you’re concerned for a student. We would much rather you exhibit that human desire to help than sit back and miss that moment, and so it’s been really heartening seeing those shifting of time, but the big thing that I’ve seen recently is the gap between that students’ “working day”, so we as administrators are there 9:00-5:00 loosely, what happens after? So yes, we have some evening classes, there’s still gonna be exposure to those faculty members, but for our on and off-campus students, who is there to help them? And I think that’s still a big unanswered question in higher ed today.

0:11:02.7 BT: Yeah. Oh, thanks so much, Matt. I love the way you captured this and the before COVID times versus what’s starting to shift, and some really exciting examples there of the types of resources institutions can build out to help different leaders and different stakeholders, staff and faculty across campus feel more equipped, and I think that’s an interesting question of, who are the folks who have the skills, who are prepared to feel comfortable responding to these types of situations? You raised the 9:00-5:00 question here too. I’ll take us towards that. This is an area where, you think about after hours, and I know a lot of institutions, sometimes the folks who are responding after hours are campus safety, or campus police officers, and so I’d love to get your perspective on how equipped is that particular group to respond to, to manage some of the safety concerns without also escalating a potentially crisis situation? Are there a certain response tactics that schools should be thinking about and should be striving for here?

0:12:05.3 MM: I love that question. I think this is the second wave of what I would anticipate seeing as we think about student mental health on campus. And it’s important to note, all students and all people have mental health, but I love the way that you ask that question of mental health crisis, so essentially, that thing that takes us over our capacity, and we all have different levels of capacity, and not all crises is gonna look the same, and so it’s important to distinguish when we or a student is in crisis is their risk of self or other harm, and so those are the types of questions that end of the day need to be sussed out by a mental health professional. I think that’s important to underscore in both of my previous answers and this one as well, that the only folks that should be providing mental health counselling are mental health counsellors, and I know that sounds like a no-brainer or a duh moment, but I say that so bluntly to make sure that folks who are absolved from thinking they are now de facto counselling center staff as well, and that absolutely includes groups like campus safety, as you mentioned, and I would even include a Residence Life staff, and that’s gonna be particular for our campuses to have on-campus populations, but for after hours, which if we’re thinking that 9:00-5:00 model, we still have two-thirds of the day to account for, and the staff that are going to be there on most all college campuses are Residence Life and Campus Safety.

0:13:33.6 MM: Now, the question of how equipped, I would say they are well positioned, but if I’m thinking through the same early alert process that we use in technology. It’s kind of that if you see something, say something. I don’t often see that there are clear lines drawn between the identification of students’ need, who intervenes next and what happens downstream as a result? So I would say these folks are well-equipped, but not often well-structured and well-aligned to be able to provide the after-hour support that many students will need.

0:14:09.8 BT: Yeah, I love the way you differentiated that there. Well-positioned doesn’t necessarily equate to being well-equipped, and I certainly know having done some of the research on campus safety and police in particular, you ask many of those folks, they’ll be the first to say, “Man, I wish I had more training, I wish I had more experience here, I don’t feel like the best positioned to respond to some of these situations,” so an important place for universities to be leaning in and kind of critically assessing, and I’d love to go there, and that’s in… And Matt, maybe have you walk me through the process here, and walk listeners through the process of what actually happens when someone makes a 911 call, when there is a mental health crisis on campus, how do responders typically handle it? Who is the person who is showing up first, is it campus police? Are there multiple teams and do they work together at all? And so, what’s that look like in reality?

0:15:05.4 MM: A seemingly simple question, the answer is a wildly difference. [chuckle] I would say for every campus that we have, we have a slightly different shade of the same color, and I’ll clarify that, and give kind of a general… And I know you are the person to think about differentiated response models, so what I’ll probably do is give a couple examples of then what I would love, if you don’t mind, walking both myself and the listeners through what EAB has found and the EAB recommendations as a result. But I would say as a general answer to the question asked, it depends on if. So on the campuses I’ve worked on before, 911 went straight to 911 operators. Some staff on campuses have it re-route, so that campus safety is the first one that responds if an outbound call is made on campus. Where I’ve worked, it was a Pasco collector $200 and went straight to emergency services. What I find also is interesting and a little bit of a different model, if a student runs into a staff employee or reaches out to staff before dialing 911, a different chain would take place or activate, so it’s kind of this branching logic of if-then.

0:16:25.3 MM: So, if 911 goes to police, police would show up first, and normally police would stop by if there is a central office or gate upon campus entry, then they would connect with Campus Safety officers, show up at the same time. Where I’ve worked, it was a… The Residence Life staff would show up and with the training that those Residence Life staff received, they would either start de-escalating some of that mental health crisis in the moment without providing actual counselling, and those are two different things I’m happy to dive into later, but then if that crisis was either emergent in some sort of medical or mental health need that those folks could not meet, then that would go up the line to our Campus Safety and/or police, depending on…

0:17:16.3 MM: And I should clarify, police and honestly with 911, oftentimes when that 911 call was made, it would be both an ambulance and a squad car, which is tough from a student health-seeking perspective, and I’d be happy to dive into that later on in our conversation, but at that point, there are incident reports. There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of parties involved when there’s this knee-jerk reaction to see a student in need and immediately dial 911. I think we miss those moments to really be there as people, again, in that notion of not being perfect, but being present, and I’m also not saying we need to be their counsellor in the moment. I have found working with crisis counselling as part of my background, the power of just being present can be such a bomb for folks that are in need of support at that time, so I am a big proponent of, “Let’s get students the help they need,” but I will really, really reinforce being thoughtful about what those processes are.

0:18:21.8 BT: Yeah.

0:18:21.9 MM: ‘Cause again, we have folks so well-positioned to help that, to your point, I’m not sure that that training and the expectation setting of if-then actually takes place for those folks.

0:18:34.0 BT: Thanks so much, Matt. It’s so helpful to hear about what this looks like in practice, your experience responding, and I like the way you describe the if-then model and the various branches of who might respond under different circumstances, how it differs across institutions. This is a complex task for universities to figure out. And I think what you described really nicely aligns with what my team and I have found through a lot of our research. For listeners I’ll give a little background here. Matt mentioned the term earlier, a differentiated response, and this is a model, and the premise is pretty simple essentially thinking through who responds to different types of service calls or crises on campus, and how that might differ depending on the nature of the situation.

0:19:19.8 BT: Now, organizations that use a differentiated response model like this ultimately are trying to ensure that we are deploying the best possible responder in terms of their skill sets, their experiences, their ability to be present and to provide support and services based on the content. Now, I’ve seen this model playing out outside of higher ed for a little while now. Actually, seen in a number of cities like Eugene, Oregon, Sacramento and Oakland in California, Toronto in Canada, all thinking about, How could we deploy potentially non-police responders either alongside or sometimes in lieu of different traditional police officers for service calls that are related to mental health. And they’ve seen a lot of really positive results here, simply by having folks who have the specialized skills be in those positions.

0:20:13.3 BT: And so I think that’s an exciting innovation that certainly has been happening out of sector and municipalities and is starting to roll over into higher ed as well, and so I’ll preview just a couple of variations of this model that I’ve seen through the research. Institutions starting to explore. One of the the first approaches here is having a campus police or police from the local town, depending on your response model, actually partner with other on-campus groups like counsellors to physically respond in person to mental health calls across campus. And I think one of the things the institutions always are thinking about here is the safety of the responders themselves and also of the students, and so one approach I found really interesting, what comes from CU Boulder. They found a way to scale this response model while also not requiring the counsellors to actually be physically present.

0:21:08.9 BT: So essentially their campus safety responders have iPads. They can then use those to video call on call counselling staff when there is a crisis situation. So an interesting way that folks are using technology here. Another approach I’ve seen though is actually going back to the staffing point. I’ve seen some schools hiring full-time dedicated mental health responders, either who are housed within a counselling center or a campus police unit. Some larger institutions like University of Utah has headed this direction, and they actually have a whole division within their campus safety department that’s focused on community services, and that has three full-time crisis support specialists. These are the folks who absolutely specialize in when there is a mental health crisis on campus being one of the first people on the scene.

0:21:58.3 BT: And then the last approach I’ll highlight, just showing again the variety of different ways institutions can tackle this is actually contracting out some of this work. And so partnering with an external organization that maybe has expertise in counselling and mental health crises and having them respond when there are situations occurring on campus. I know Arizona State has taken this approach, working with a local non-profit called IMPACT that provides kind of emergency response and also transport services. Getting back to your point Matt, kind of the ambulance side of this and helping students get to a facility where they can get more support and treatment. So just a few ways, I’ve seen this panning out across some campuses in the US, still early on here, but I think an exciting concept. To really reimagine what should these procedures, these processes look like in practice, and who’s the best person to be providing that support and service in the moment. And the last thing I’ll note here on the differentiated response model. We’re focused on mental health, student health crises, but actually I think the concept applies to a lot of other situations and crises on campus too.

0:23:10.3 BT: For example, I know that at Chapman University they actually have adjusted some of their procedures and policies for things around student activism. And so having student affairs staff be first responders to calls related to activism protest instead of police. Similarly, some schools have resident facility assistant programs, and so having those folks respond when there’s an after hours building issue rather than having campus please get involved. So just of a couple examples, you probably get the picture here. There’s a lot of potential folks who might be better positioned I think to respond in certain situations based on their skills, their background and experiences, and of course, that can also help us a little bit when it comes to some of those capacity questions.

0:23:54.6 MM: I love that. Thank you, Brooke. And it helps me a lot because in thinking through those same thousand shades of the same color, it really… It sounds like it boils down to any of those three, and of course, permutations of those three differentiated models that you spoke to. I guess I’m thinking through, ’cause I normally, when I pitch or position a new idea to campus officials they normally have that thinking cap on of, “Okay, but what can I do with my existing resources?” So I would love to hear if within that notion of those three models, within what you’re seeing in the research and where you know higher ed to be going, is there anything else that our institutions should be considering when they think about preparing their campus safety and police officers today.

0:24:41.3 BT: Great question, and there’s a couple of things I would put on folks radar. So first I wanna highlight some of the underpinnings, if you will, of making a differentiated response model actually work on campus, are things that get overlooked sometimes that you wanna proactively prepare for. And so from that standpoint, a couple of recommendations I would have for institutions, and I think a lot of this starts with understanding what are the needs of your campus when it comes to crisis response, and that means actually collecting and analyzing the data here. What types of service calls are you getting? What days and times are they happening? So you’ve got a better understanding of what are we going to need from a capacity standpoint, and then critically assessing who are the full range of potential responders you already have access to, who have certain skills and can be well equipped to respond based on the context of the call.

0:25:31.5 BT: Probably, most important though, I was actually thinking through dispatch. So it is the linchpin for making this kind of differentiated response model work, and you alluded earlier that in some cases institutions, a 911 call goes directly to police, and so in that case, really need to have an understanding, a relationship with the local police units and teams to make sure you’re on the same page with them. In cases where it does come back to campus and you actually have a dispatch unit. I think being intentional about equipping dispatchers with the training and the resources needed to pinpoint who is the right person to respond? What are the real needs of this call?

0:26:12.2 BT: So that they can better diagnose how they deploy staff and sources. And so I’ll share another example from Chapman University here. They have done a lot of work to reimagine kind of and elevate the role of their dispatch team on campus. And one of the things I really liked was they’re partnering with their counselling center and asking them to give dispatchers training on active listening, on how to diagnose call needs. So they’re better positioned here. And the second piece of the equation is then that the ongoing communication and coordination needed. Any time we’re talking about having potentially multiple different groups who might be responding to mental health crises or providing follow-up support, we’ve got to ensure there are those clear protocols and procedures of who’s going to be the first on the scene? Who gets to make a decision versus a recommendation in the moment?

0:27:04.0 BT: Who is responsible for providing service and how are we sharing the information and managing the case after we respond? And then the final piece I’ll elevate here that I think institutions should be thinking about regardless of what their response model is, whether they’re using a differentiated approach is simply providing training to potential responders and I’ll focus in particular here on campus safety and police officers. That’s often where my research has centered, and I’ve seen a broader look across the industry to be reimagining what’s the curriculum look like for training these staff on our campuses and also the local police, the police who are involved in our community who might be responding to our institutions. And certainly a lot of training innovations occurring around anti-bias, those are absolute baseline trainings, but I think the next place we’re gonna see more institutions investing is around mental health, making sure that safety officer has exposure.

0:28:02.0 BT: Some of these critical concepts so they understand what’s the best practices for responding. And one example I’ve seen that’s quite exciting here, actually comes from Portland State. This is a good case of making the most of the resources you already have access to. They have actually tapped faculty members in the School of Social Work to create and build out a de-escalation training specifically for their campus safety staff, but they’re already thinking, would it be possible to scale this? Is this something where we actually could lead the way? We could offer this to other police and municipalities are locally in our area, so a few places for institutions to start thinking and investing in a couple of next steps here on the training side of things, but that does bring us back to this question about capacity, Matt, which I feel like has been coming up across this entire conversation. And you’ve emphasized mental health, this isn’t 9:00-5:00.

0:28:57.9 BT: We have to be thinking about what’s happening after hours and how are we providing support, and so from your perspective can schools really expect and be able to staff on-campus counselling centers 24/7, and if not, then what role should those counselling centers play when there are needs that are coming up after normal business hours.

0:29:18.7 MM: I love that question, and you took me back to some of my lives and jobs of years gone by in your answer just prior. I would say the short answer, especially knowing how understaffed our counselling centers are today, it’s not realistic in my mind to have a dramatic shift where now we just have 24/7 all counsellors all the time. And I know that sounds dooming gloom. What I would say though, to provide hope and to counter probably some of the feelings that that evoked is there’s nothing keeping us from providing 24/7 support. Now, that’s not necessarily going to come from our same folks that are there at 9:00-5:00. I loved your examples of there are community partners, there are agencies, there are folks on our campus teaching our students the things that they can put into practice themselves as faculty members, as residence hall directors or other.

0:30:18.9 MM: And so that’s me reinforcing the 24/7 support is possible, but the staffing can be very limited, both from knowing how many folks are currently in the market today and the resource constraints of our institution. And I’d love that you picked up on some of the things I alluded to previous lives and previous jobs. I was very fortunate in both undergrad and then some in grad school to work with law enforcement, doing some of the training that you mentioned. And I can speak to the hunger of our folks that are there to protect our students wanting to know more, wanting to do better, wanting to know how to show up in the right way. And same for our residence hall staff. They’re quite literally living alongside of our students to provide the help that they need. So how do we use these resources that are already in place that are hungry for the opportunity to do more and do better by our students and can extend that network out from what our counsellors provide when they are in seat and in session.

0:31:19.5 MM: Similar to what you referenced with the iPads and the virtual sessions, I was fortunate to have a good relationship with the counselling center during my grad school, and our residence life staff to build out some of that if then. So if a student was in duress and that duress indicated a level of harm potentially to self or to other, we had a different chain of command to make sure that our counselling center staff were called in. So it was more of an on-call than necessarily truly there 24/7 model, but fit within our resources that we could leverage. That was all preceded by hours and hours of training that our residence hall staff went through role plays of if a student is showing behavior X what do you say or do? And then same for our counselling center in campus safety staff. A lot of what you would expect from a safe zone training would be similar to what we did in our well zone, and that’s kind of a play on the same premise, but there are ways to communicate across campus at all points of that student’s 24-hour day. There are people here to help, this is the process that it looks like, and here’s how you can get started if you need help today.

0:32:34.8 BT: Wonderful. That’s a great example. And I like the way you describe this, 24/7 support is possible. There are ways we can make that happen even amid some of the staffing and capacity constraints. And I think that does raise it the question a little bit here of how technology fits into all of this. If there are ways that institutions are also using tech to help staff identify students even before they’re may be in a crisis situation or connect students to various support resources. Have you seen any innovations or examples in that space?

0:33:07.1 MM: Absolutely, I think the one that I see most often, and the one that I would put my money and my weight behind as a campus professional is the dissemination of support that’s available. And I know that sounds like a weird place to start, but I truly believe and have seen the power of destigmatizing help-seeking behavior. A lot of times we still lean into that look to the left, look to the right spirit on campus. And that is a model that was outdated before the pandemic and surely isn’t appropriate and applicable for our students today when we think about providing the care that they need. So the de-stigmatization can be done with apps like our Navigate Student app. We have resources, we have quick polls, we have to-dos. I use those as tangible examples because they are part of my day-to-day, but the most innovative practices that I see are ones that talk about struggles that are typical to the college experience early, and then do the second step of that which is the and here’s what it looks like to get help. And I see that most effective when it’s led by people in positions of power talking about the experience as people.

0:34:24.2 MM: So yes, this may be the President, but they’re talking as Nancy or they’re talking as Bill about their struggles. They have the vantage point, they have the that name and the letters after their last name to have enough eyes on them to leverage that moment appropriately. But there are so many low-hanging fruit that are already in our spheres of influence to both identify either students raising their own hand and saying, “Hey, I’m struggling, or a faculty member saying, “Gosh, this student, there seems to be something else going on. I’m not equipped to address that thing, but I sure can provide this information to someone who can.” So things like our early alert programs, our students raising their hand within… Excuse me, the technology available to them for us to make sure… And it all goes back to that if-then model. I’m a big fan of people, process and technology as we think through change. I think folks over-rely on technology and haven’t actually addressed the people and the processes that make that technology successful, so yes, is a short answer that tech can do so, so much, but it’s only going to make the existing practices faster, even if those practices aren’t the right ones for our students today.

0:35:42.5 BT: Yeah, such a great example here of tech can help elevate, it can help advance, but it’s not a silver bullet on its own. It’s not going to solve everything without some of those if-then processes about the other investments that we’ve been talking about for the last 30 minutes or so. And I know Matt we could talk on this topic probably for hours and still only end up just scratching the surface, but we need to wrap things up for today. And so to round us out, I’d love to hear what’s your advice? What would you tell a university president, a senior leader about why they should prioritise this issue, and on the other side, what advice would you give to some of our frontline staff who are actually tasked day-to-day with connecting with students and providing them with the best possible support.

0:36:27.1 MM: I love that question because I think it is quite literally a million dollar question, and I say that because folks think that being there and supporting students requires additional spend or a capital campaign, but similar to I referenced the president or the provost speaking as people, that’s political capital, and that’s essentially free. And similarly, I would say we get caught up in the notion of it being a dichotomous zero or one. We either are struggling in a mental health crisis, or we have “fixed student mental health on campus”. First and foremost, there will never be a fixed… Similar to your point of silver bullet, there will always be more we can do for our students. The most important thing, and this will sound silly, but I’d encourage you to sit with it as a leader. What is the next right step? And I say that because each of you listening will be in a different point on that spectrum of either completely new to the conversation or advanced, and maybe even referenced as one of the examples provided today, but I’d wager there’s always something else to do.

0:37:33.9 MM: So if you don’t currently have an early alert system, What does that look like to start? How are we making sure our faculty with the most exposure to our students are passing information to the people that need that information, and how do we make sure we communicate back to that faculty person to say thank you, and we were able to support a student as a result. Similar for our frontline staff, making sure you know what resources are available to you as a faculty member, as an advisor, as a counselling center staff yourself. You have needs as a person that you have to address as well. I think often times we get focused and fixated on student mental health, and there’s this whole other population on campus of staff that also are struggling with a lot of things right now brought about by the pandemic, and in their own lives.

0:38:24.9 MM: So we often, as someone who traveled a good chunk of time in the before times, would hear that line of, secure your oxygen mask first. I would encourage you each to think about that. You can only show up for someone else if you’ve shown up for yourself first, so what are the resources on campus that you can leverage that then you can bring to those moments with your students and say, “Gosh, I know what that looks like. I know what that feels like. Here’s what it looks like for me to get that help. Can I offer to walk with you across campus to do that today?” So again, none of you need to be perfect. All of you hopefully can be present, and all of you can hopefully take a next right step to make sure both your staff and students have what they need to be successful.

0:39:10.1 BT: I think that’s the perfect note to end on today. Thank you so much for your time and for joining, Matt.

0:39:17.3 MM: And thank you. This was so fun and yes, the time flew by. It would be easy for us to do several more hours of this, so hopefully I’ll be able to come back and pick your brain more about the great things going on.

0:39:28.4 BT: Absolutely, and for our listeners that we will be sure to include some links in the show notes to other resources for those who are interested in learning more about some of the emerging best practices in supporting student mental health and some of the examples that Matt and I shared today. Until next time though, thanks for joining us on Office Hours with EAB.

0:39:54.7 Speaker 1: Thanks for listening. Please join us next week when we dig into a real world use case for using technology to boost yield and retention. Until next week. Thank you for your time.

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