As we all continue to strive to create the very best environments for our students to live and learn, we want to encourage you to think about how your engagement with students can support their well-being during this uniquely stressful time.
Well-being is the optimal and dynamic state that allows people to achieve their full potential. We encourage you to review the expanded definition on the Inter-association’s website, which discusses the interdependent types of well-being: individual and community.
Student well-being has an impact on the overall student experience. Graduates who were emotionally supported during college—who had a mentor who encouraged their hopes and dreams and professors who cared about them as people and made them excited about learning—are three times as likely to report they are thriving after college and are six times as likely to be attached to their alma mater (Gallup, 2020).
In addition, depression, anxiety, and stress are among the top five factors students report that negatively impact academic performance (NCHA/ACHA, 2020), and there is a strong negative correlation between mental health concerns and GPA (De Luca et. al, 2016).
Student well-being also has a measurable impact on retention and persistence, and the general estimate is that 3-5% of college students withdraw due to mental health related problems (Hunt, 2010, Eisenberg 2013).
Please consider some of our below recommendations for promoting student well-being while balancing academic rigor.
- Encourage sleep by having assignments due by 8, 9 or 10 p.m. instead of 11:59 p.m.
- Build in well-being opportunities throughout the semester:
- Start virtual classes 10-15 minutes early and encourage informal interaction among students similar to what is experienced during in-person classes;
- Allow 2-5 minutes at the beginning of class to check in with students and see how they’re doing or to allow students a moment of mindfulness to assist with becoming focused and grounded for class;
- Discuss the best way to prepare prior to high-stakes moments (e.g. mid-term, significant assignments, comprehensive exams, defense, finals)
- Invite a member of the UCC Team to share tips on how to create opportunities for peak performance;
- Adjust the course calendar to account for the University-planned Self-Care Days in advance (2/23/21 and 3/24/21), including adjusting assignment deadlines for a few days after Self-Care Days.
- Focus on student strengths to encourage students to approach the course and their assignments from their strengths. Suggest that students take the free Character Strengths survey from the VA Institute on Character and/or request a member of Pitt’s Strength Team to provide training in the CliftonStrengths Assessment at the beginning of the semester.
- Normalize adversity, obstacles and failure by sharing how students can tap into their Pitt Grit to bounce back from disappointments.
- Practice flexibility and empathy. The University Center for Teaching and Learning encourages you to:
- Proactively plan how you can support students navigating the uncertainty of new circumstances.
- Consider creating flexible deadlines or allowing a certain number of extensions on assignments when possible.
- Convey compassion to your students by checking in to see how they’re doing, connecting them to resources, and assuring them that you care about their well-being and are there to help them succeed.
- Attend our upcoming virtual workshop, Mental Health and Student Academic Success, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at noon.
- Create a well-being resource section on your course site and in your syllabus.
And finally, take care of yourself! It’s also important to model self-care for our students and to give ourselves permission to relax and de-stress. We also encourage you to visit Wellness for Life at Pitt and LifeSolutions for ideas and support.
Thank you for the extraordinary work you do to support and engage our students as they pursue their dreams and goals.
Jay E. Darr, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, BC-TMH, PMP
University Counseling Center
Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director
University Center for Teaching and Learning
American College Health Association (2020). National college health assessment III: Reference group executive summary spring 2020. https://www.acha.org/documents/ncha/NCHA-III_Spring_2020_Reference_Group_Executive_Summary.pdf
De Luca, S. M., Franklin, C., Yueqi, Y., Johnson, S., & Brownson, C. (2016). The Relationship Between Suicide Ideation, Behavioral Health, and College Academic Performance. Community mental health journal, 52(5), 534–540. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-016-9987-4
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J., & Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: variation across student subgroups and across campuses. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 201(1), 60–67. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e31827ab077
Gallup, Inc. (2020). Improved student wellbeing and create engaged students: higher education. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from: https://www.gallup.com/education/316709/how-to-improve-wellbeing-in-education.aspx#ite-316724
Hunt, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2010). Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students. The Journal of adolescent health: official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 46(1), 3–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.08.008
NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education & ACHA – American College Health Association (November 2020). Inter-association definition of well-being. Retrieved, December 18, 2020, from https://www.nirsa.org/hands-in