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The Eight Dimensions of Student Wellness

Episode 158

July 18, 2023 28 minutes


EAB’s Lindsay Schappell, Matt Mustard, and Ed Venit explore the eight dimensions of wellness as they related to keeping students engaged, healthy, and on path academically. The three offer data that highlight the magnitude of the student mental health challenge and the extent of staffing shortfalls that are decimating college counseling centers.

They also share tips for university leaders on better ways to identify students who may be struggling and support those students with a coordinated care network.



0:00:11.1 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today’s episode is the first in a three-part series focused on student mental health. This episode is focused on the eight dimensions of wellness. And don’t worry, you don’t have to listen to all three episodes to understand the key takeaways on this subject. Our guests explore how these eight dimensions of wellness are connected and why it’s so important to look at all the contributors to mental health more holistically as we think about how best to support our students. So give these folks a listen and enjoy.


0:00:49.1 Ed Venit: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Office Hours with EAB. My name is Ed Venit. I’m a managing director here with the firm. All of my research recently has been on the impact of the pandemic on college student success and looking at the ways we’re gonna have to evolve to better support students going forward as we navigate this recovery. I’m joined here by two guests today that we have gotten a chance to work with on some of our mental health work. Matt Mustard and Lindsay Chappell will introduce themselves in a moment, but I’m gonna set this up just a little bit more. It shouldn’t come to as a surprise to many of our listeners to hear that the pandemic has had a very negative impact on really, all of our mental health, but especially our students. And we weren’t really in a particularly good place with this before the pandemic. This isn’t a really complex topic.

0:01:39.4 EV: I’ve had the pleasure of being able to work with a group of EAB-ers who rather organically came together around this work under the premise of, could EAB be doing more to support student mental health and wellbeing with the technology and offerings that we have. Two of those colleagues are here with me today, and I wanna give them a chance to jump in and introduce themselves, and then we’ll talk a little bit about what we’re discovering. So first we’ll start off with Lindsay Schappell. Lindsay, jump in and tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do with the firm, and how you came to this work.

0:02:11.9 Lindsay Schappell: Great. First of all, thank you, thank you for having me. It’s really fun to be with you and talk about a topic that not only is near and dear to my heart but also really important in the current world of student success. So I am a navigate strategic leader. What that means is that I get to partner with institutions across our Student Success Collaborative to help them think through their student success strategies and help them create and refine interventions to better support their students. This topic is particularly important to me as well because prior to my time at EAB, I worked as a clinical social worker.

0:02:49.0 LS: Oftentimes I say I work at EAB, but I am a social worker, so I think it’s still in my blood, it influences how I understand the world. And so being able to marry the two, being able to see the impact of mental health on students on campus, and also come from the work that EAB is doing and the lens that I have now in my work with institutions has really been a wonderful blend for me in this project. So thank you, thank you for having me and giving me the opportunity to share some of the stuff that we’ve learned and found successful.

0:03:21.6 EV: Thanks, Lindsay. My other colleague here with me is Matt Mustard. Matt, jump on in and tell us a little bit about yourself.

0:03:27.6 Matt Mustard: Sure. Happy to, and thanks for having me. As Ed said, my name is Matt Mustard. I’ve been at the firm here for a little over eight years now serving in a strategic leader capacity and now helping oversee our strategic leader team. Similar to Lindsay, I bring in a lot of passion to this professional area of expertise as well. Prior to EAB, I came from a mental health nonprofit for a number of years, and prior to that, working directly on campus with the campus counseling center, police and auxiliary services, and campus leadership to figure out the ways in which we needed to show up for our students in their times of need. So I’m wildly excited that EAB has not just created room, but fully supported this organic think tank of folks that have come together and really thought through, where do we need to be for our students and how do we show up in that way? So I’m glad to be here today.

0:04:15.7 EV: Matt, I’m delighted to have you, as well as Lindsay. You are two of the folks that I’ve learned the most about this topic from over the course of our work. We normally think about student success, or at least we historically have in terms of what I might describe as a three-legged stool. We worry about academic issues, we worry about financial issues, and we worry about issues and belongingness. And that is part of our larger DEI conversation as well. But this mental health challenge, if we call it that is now becoming very quickly a fourth leg of that stool and perhaps maybe, the most important leg relative to the data that we’re seeing in terms of, well, student attitudes and what’s keeping them in college or not. All of these things are important and we’ll see in a moment and discuss how they’re all related. But it’s time that we gave mental health its due in terms of the weight and gravity it has on what might motivate a student to stay in school or not, and what our institutions can do to support that.

0:05:13.2 EV: In particular, we’ve been tracking some data from Gallup and Lumina. They’ve been polling students since fall of 2020. And what they’re asking was for the different factors that might have compelled a student to consider stopping out of their education. Meaning leave school, take some time off, hopefully come back, although we know that that’s not often the case. So they’re asking students about six months in the pandemic on a wide variety of issues, “Have you thought about leaving school?” And there’s a lot of what you might expect in there. “I’m worried about my financial situation. I don’t like online learning. I’m worried about getting COVID.” I remember this was fall of ’20, we were only six months into it. But very high on the list was, “I’m considering leaving school because of the emotional stress of this all.” Very understandable, and if I remember the numbers off the top of my head, it’s something like a quarter of two-year students and 42% of four-year students were saying they were considering leaving school because of the emotional stress of the early pandemic.

0:06:13.8 EV: Those numbers were bad enough. We don’t have a prior number to compare to, so we don’t know what the change is, but we do have a post number to compare it to. And that was when they went back and surveyed the students a year later in fall of ’21. At that point, we were well into the era of at least beginning vaccination. We were emerging from a lot of our lockdown situations. Schools were reopening at least partially. Life was kind of beginning to return to normal. And what was shocking about that data was what changed. Same survey, same questions. There were some differences. Students were understandably less afraid about getting COVID at that point. They were a little bit more concerned about their academics. That might be a reason why they would leave school. But there was a massive leap in the number of students or should I say, the percentage of students who were saying they were considering leaving school, stopping out because of emotional stress.

0:07:06.2 EV: Those numbers had jumped to something like two-thirds, nearly of two-year students, and three-quarters of four-year students. This is in Fall ’21. We just recently saw the data released for Fall ’22. They went back into the survey yet again, and the numbers haven’t really changed. This is… It’s concerning if we think about three-fourths of our four-year students. So let’s say… Saying this is too stressful for me. I’m considering leaving school. For student success professionals, this should be a clear-hand call. We have to begin to address this concern. And this is also something that we’re not very well prepared for. Lindsay especially. I’d like you to share a little bit here. What do you think about those numbers and kind of the state of affairs on campus, either prior to the pandemic or right now, and our ability to respond?

0:07:56.5 LS: Yeah. That’s a great question, and every time I hear that statistic or hear the outcome of that poll, it again reminds me of how important this work is, for student success leaders, honestly, all leaders on a campus. One of the reasons why I think data like this is so important and compelling is because it’s putting numbers to a growing issue, that anecdotally we’ve only been able to talk about before. So I appreciate that now we have some weight behind this topic to be able to rally support for students in crisis on campuses now in a very unique way. And the second reason why I think this is important is because part of that support looks a little bit different now, and a lot of our research in our conversations with campus leaders, we have seen that we’re sort of at a critical inflection period where the demand for counseling or mental health services on a college campus is at an all-time high, while the supply of counselors available to the students is at an all-time low.

0:09:09.1 LS: So you can imagine, the kind of pipeline backup this creates for an institution that is trying to direct students to services. But because the supply of counselors is so limited, they’ll never, ever get seen. So I think that we can look at that not just as an imperative to start addressing mental health needs, but also an opportunity to be able to bring more people into the fold of this conversation, to be able to equip student leaders, student success staff with tools through technology to be able to help them scale their work with students in a unique way. Ultimately be able to meet students where they are in unique and significant ways to be able to help them when they’re expressing needs, when they’re expressing the need for help, and be able to meet them where they’re at.

0:10:09.1 EV: Yeah. The counselor shortage is especially pronounced in my conversations with campus leaders. Part of the challenge that I’ve noticed from these conversations were really two challenges from a leadership standpoint. One is, as you know, it’s hard to find counselors and it’s also hard to find the right counselors that might be willing to move to your campus. If you are in a rural environment or a bit outta the way, talk to encourage someone to come out to you. And it’s very important to do so in a diverse way because of the nature of who we select for help. Oftentimes you’re gonna want to interact with someone who gets you, not be someone who has a similar gender identity or sexual identity or racial identity or similar background. And if you have a diverse counseling staff, you can meet that need. If you don’t, then there’s gonna be some gaps in your ability to support students. But the other thing it implies is that counseling is all there is. And Matt, I’m wondering if you can offer a little bit of, just sort of commentary on the current state of affairs with how schools are supporting mental health and wellness, both within the counseling center and beyond because it’s not so myopic as to just think about it in terms of what we have inside that counseling center.

0:11:30.1 MM: Absolutely. And coming from an on-campus background as well, I’m acutely familiar that the common response to any student in duress is, let me walk you over to the counseling center. For every reason that you both just touched on, that cannot be and is not a scalable solution. Not just the scarcity of the folks that we can hire, but the scalability of the impact that our students are asking for. And so I love seeing some campus leaders struggle, which I know is odd, but struggle with the right thing of how do we show up for our students in the ways that they need to. And Lindsay touched on this a bit as well, but modernizing our student response is key and ensuring that the same way that we have gone through a bit of a reawakening in higher education around the role of all staff in student success is the second wave of the role of student wellness across all staff positions.

0:12:23.3 MM: And what I’m saying there, and what I mean is not that all staff are now clinicians if that was not their clinical orientation prior to me having said that, that certainly is not the case after. What I mean by that though, the same kind of way that we traditionally in higher education thought of all of advising, being responsible for all of student success, to use Ed’s three-legged stool analogy and take it that much further, we’ve quickly realized we’ve been sitting on a medicine ball or an exercise ball, really. There is no one prong. The more pressure that shows up in one area, the more you may see it flare out in others. And that’s a key differentiator for a lot of our in institutions that are making meaningful headway with students, is treating them as a whole entity.

0:13:10.8 MM: Not just thinking about success in the classroom, not just thinking about any academic issue being the, outcropping or symptom of an underlying mental health issue, but really thinking about the entirety of the student. Thinking about what are those low touch or high impact sometimes are the same thing. Opportunities for a student to learn more about what they’re going through in life, to learn more about the resources that are available and that those resources are available on demand. The days of pen and paper outside of a door to sign up for office hours is long since passed. And in this “post-pandemic opportunity,” we as an entire industry need to be thinking about how we show up in a way that students are asking for, which is usually on their phones, on their desktop, some sort of electronic version of a service or conversation, and to allow them to raise their hand, to opt in to ask for a thing. The last quote, and then I’ll hash and we can keep getting into this, obviously I’m excited about the conversation, is that a quote that I’ve heard a lot in the same conversation is that our current student population is more willing to sacrifice anonymity with the expectation of service. So our students are asking, and they’re telling and they’re sharing everything that we need to be hearing. It is up to us to do something with that answer and to make sure it’s meaningful for our students.

0:14:38.0 EV: Yeah. A counterpoint, of course, is that we need to be mindful of HIPAA here. That is the law that protects us against having our health information shared. But it shouldn’t be a barrier either. If you are in this space and thinking about what more can I do with mental health and wellness, you probably call the campus counsel to see what’s covered by HIPAA and what’s not. I have observed, I think we all have, in this work that, HIPAA has… It’s not as extensive as some people might think it is in terms of what’s in bear game and what’s not for someone to work on, what’s protected and what’s not. And the easiest way to do that is talk to your lawyer to figure that out before you move forward.

0:15:25.1 EV: You might find you’re more flexibility than you might have thought, or you might figure out that you can do that thing and, you have to come up with something else. Matt, I’m going to have to steal your exercise ball analogy, for the three-legged stool. Not heard that one before and I really like it for all the reasons that you laid out. I especially like it because it relates very much to a concept that you two and the rest of our task force have taught me, which I did not really fully understand before, which was this concept of the eight dimensions of wellness. We’re gonna talk about that for a minute. So what’s really nice about this mental health and wellbeing space is that there are experts out there that have done a tremendous amount of research development on this frameworks that we can draw from.

0:16:14.9 EV: This is a new science. This is about bringing what’s already established to campus. One of these frameworks that’s very popular is the eight dimensions of wellness. What do I mean by that? It’s pretty much in the name. There are eight different ways in which we can feel well or unwell. I’ll list ’em all for you in a moment, but before I do, they interact with each other. So if you’re not feeling well in a certain way, it can impact some of these other wellnesses in a knock-on effect. They’re very networked together. The other big takeaway from this is that you can feel well in one area and very unwell in another area, and you’re not well. So just because part of you is okay, does not necessarily mean that all of you is okay. And that is a way that we should be thinking about how we can support our students.

0:17:01.3 EV: So let’s just quickly list off what these are. The first dimension is emotional, how we understand or manage our feelings. Second, it’s intellectual. This is where you can get lifelong learning and personal growth. Don’t think I need to explain to college professionals what the intellectual wellness might be. Physical wellness, that’s also self-explanatory. Do you have a healthy body? Are you exercising, eating well, taking care of yourself, sleeping well? This is an area that I could be doing more with. Social wellness: We are social creatures. Are we maintaining connections with each other? Even if we might consider ourselves introverts we’re not so isolated that we don’t need to have connections with each other. And Matt, as you brought up in this hyper-connected world, social wellness might not involve being physically co-located with someone. It might be someone that you’re interacting in a virtual way, which can be great and certainly is a thing Gen Z will do a lot of.

0:17:51.3 EV: The fifth dimension is gonna be occupational. Are you deriving satisfaction and fulfillment from how you occupy yourself in your day from your work? And are you achieving a work-life balance that makes sense for you? I found this particularly interesting in my own life because I don’t like working normal hours. I might be working at 1 o’clock in the morning and I’m happy to do that. I’m probably not gonna show up at 9 o’clock in the morning the next day. And that’s okay. As long as I’m getting things done, I made it work for me. The sixth dimension environmental is one that is more surprising to me. I hadn’t thought it this way before, but it makes sense. And the environmental wellness is appreciating your surroundings and making contributions to your environment, but, and also includes how your environment affects you. Think about how a messy room or, a living situation that you’re not happy with can impact your well-being.

0:18:44.4 EV: Seventh dimension is spiritual, exploring and developing a personal belief system doesn’t have to be religious. That value that, excuse me, a personal belief system and values that provide a sense of purpose, meaning, and direction in your life. What are your morals and ethics? What drives you? How do you feel like you are living a good life in that regard? And then the last dimension, financial. It’s pretty self-explanatory. How is the money? If you’re stressed about whether or not you can pay your bills, whether or not you can keep up, whether or not you need to make more money, if other people who are depending on you to do so, and you’re not able to do so, you’re not gonna feel well.

0:19:21.8 EV: These things all interact with each other, they interplay. I’ll just give you an example of how that might be. If you were to lose your job, and you’re not occupationally well, you’re not able to fulfill your purpose in that regard, that’s gonna create financial un-wellness as well. You may also be feeling emotional about that. That’s not gonna be a good feeling moment for you. So you can see all these sort of things connect together. And if you have an issue with one, they can have knock-on effects to others. And this is why the professionals tell us that they have to sort of surround someone with the full eight dimensions for a person to be really fully well. And scenarios where we can look at again, as I was saying before, just ’cause you’re well in one area doesn’t mean you’re well in others.

0:20:02.8 EV: And it’s a framework for helping understand how you can improve your own well-being as well as those around you. Now, Matt and Lindsey, we’re gonna draw you back in on this one. For years you have both worked on navigate the concept of a coordinated care network that we have promoted for at least 10 years. Now that I think about it, involves networking together, campus offices that support students. We go right to advising, but we can also think about the Career Center. We can think about the Financial Aid Office. We can think about Red’s life. We can think about a lot of different offices within student affairs. Depends on your campus, but the idea is that all of these support offices do interact with students. And if we can network them together, well that can make a better strategy for students and also doesn’t require the students to tell their story multiple times if you’ll.

0:20:58.0 EV: I think it was very interesting when we were working on this that we discovered, or at least came to the realization that the eight dimensions of wellness and the coordinated care network are kind of the same thing in a lot of ways. This idea of addressing the holistic student through the coordinated care network is very similar to addressing holistic wellness via the eight dimensions. And we’re able to go so far as to list out all eight of these dimensions and then list out next to them stakeholders around campus that are already addressing each of these. Did you know your bursar is a wellness office? Probably haven’t thought about it that way. But if a student is interacting well with the bursar’s office, meaning they aren’t paying the bills or they don’t even know what a bursar is, and then that’s gonna contribute to financial un-wellness in that regard. This is a big eye-opening experience for me at least because it made me realize in these conversations I’m having with schools when they say we can’t do much about mental health outside the counseling center, well this allows us to come right back and say, actually you already are. You’re already supporting wellness for students. You just don’t know it.

0:22:00.6 EV: Or you haven’t talked about it that way. And if you were to ask these offices to just operate at their best possible level at the top of license, they will be supporting wellness. That means we all have a role to play. Matt, this goes back to what you were saying before. So I’d like you to jump in here and maybe elaborate a little bit on this concept of how these two things overlap and how do you see that campuses can better support wellness using again, the assets they already have in place.

0:22:28.8 MM: Good work. And Lindsay and I were over here rock paper scissoring to see who gets to swoop in first and answer that question. Unfortunately, I lost, so I’m gonna turn it over to my better half, Lindsay, to get us started. And then I would love to chime in there as well.

0:22:45.0 LS: Well, I think Ed, you’ve made so many valuable points. And truly the biggest one for me is that, when you think of the student as the center of these eight dimensions, then it is very, very clear that everyone plays a role in student wellness. Gone are the days of us being able to say, well, that’s not my problem, or that’s not in my purview. Because what you can see here is that the student is very complex and sits at the center of these eight dimensions. We’re all complex and sit at the center of these eight dimensions. And they all have an impact on one another. This is a great strategy, I think, for particularly helping kind of… And what’s that phrase? A rising tide raises all boats. I think that’s sort of the concept here is that if we can get all key players around the student to help take off some stress, to help alleviate some anxiety, we have an opportunity to proactively mitigate before the student is in crisis. So hopefully, by others on campus, taking a stake, taking an ownership stake, in working with students around their wellness around these eight dimensions. We won’t need as many urgent counseling center appointments because the student’s stress and anxiety is being satiated along the way as they get their questions answered and their needs met. Matt, what do you think?

0:24:13.3 MM: Thanks, Lindsay. I would add onto that as we think about hard-wiring student wellness, it’s as an extension of the hard-wiring student success, making sure that campus offices are there for students in the ways that they need them to be. Now this isn’t a one or a zero, meaning the entirety of the office or using every bit of every single technology you have, but thinking through what we have the ability to support first and foremost, then what is meaningful to the student? And how do we make sure that we make the help-seeking process as seamless as possible? And I won’t steal too much of our thunder ’cause I know we are coming back to have that conversation, here in a bit. But in thinking through that coordinated care and coordinated wellness, we have a lot of players already at the table that very likely just need to be asked to participate in this wellness work.

0:25:06.0 MM: The one thing that I’ll leave us with as we shift a little bit into final thoughts is this idea of top of license or idea of needing to be perfect, I think is a fear that I hear often in anything related to student success or wellness. What I would love to do is absolve folks off that as they’re sticking their toe in the water of this eight dimensions of wellness. Students aren’t expecting perfection from us, but they are asking us to be present in these eight dimensions of their wellness and hopefully our mutual success.

0:25:38.8 EV: Well, I want to thank both of you. Just some quick final thoughts on the way out. This is really important work, but it’s also very fulfilling work. I know just from thinking about and working on my own mental health, especially post-pandemic, that this can be really transformative for someone’s life. And a lot of the things we’re talking about today, man, I wish I had been exposed to a lot of this when I was 18 or 19 or 20 years old, much earlier in life. I won’t give you my age, but it’s significantly more than one of those numbers. And so [chuckle], how much of my life would’ve been different if I had learned some of these skills early on, or someone had helped me along this way or helped me understand myself better.

0:26:21.0 EV: So it’s hard. Yeah. This is gonna be hard for a lot of campus, stakeholder, staff, faculty, really everybody to work on and it’s… But it’s so important and so fulfilling to do. And like we said earlier on, stool/exercise ball, you will begin to see the impact it has on success going forward. So fully encourage you to do that. And please come along with the EAB on this journey. If you have thoughts and feedback on how we can improve our offerings to help better support student wellness and mental health, let us know. We’re all ears. This is something we care deeply about and want to work on. So with that final thought, I think we should close off for today. Matt and Lindsey, thank you much so much for your time. Really appreciate you joining us on the podcast today. Hope it won’t be the last time we get to do so. And with that, we’ll sign off. Thank you very much, everyone.

0:27:14.1 MM: Thanks. So glad to be here.

0:27:16.6 LS: Thank you. This was great. We really appreciate it.


0:27:26.8 Speaker 1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week for part two in this series as we take a look at how student help-seeking behavior is changing. Until then, thank you for your time.

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