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Supporting Student Well-Being

As we continue to create environments in which our students can thrive as they live and learn, we want to encourage you to think about how your engagement with students can support their well-being. At Pitt, we define well-being as the optimal and dynamic state that allows people to achieve their full potential.

We know that student well-being has an impact on the overall student experience. Depression, anxiety, and stress are among the top five factors students report that negatively influence 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).

But we also know that graduates who were emotionally supported during college — by mentors who encouraged their hopes and dreams and by 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).

Please consider some of these 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 University Counseling Center Team to share tips on how to create opportunities for peak performance;
  • 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 VIA Institute on Character and/or request a member of Pitt’s Strengths 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.
  • Create a well-being resource section on your Canvas course site and in your syllabus, including the Thrive@Pitt If you already have a resource section in your syllabus, please confirm that the information is updated, as these offices and points of contact do change over time.

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 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.

Sincerely,

Jay E. Darr, PhD, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH, PMP
Associate Dean for Student Wellness

Michael Bridges, PhD
Interim Executive Director
University Center for Teaching and Learning

References

American College Health Association (2020). National college health assessment III: Reference group executive summary spring 2020.

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 journal52(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 disease201(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 Medicine46(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

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