Student self-care practices on the course syllabus

With many college students, even high-achieving ones, feeling overwhelmed, faculty can play a role in encouraging students to take care of themselves.
By: | Issue: January/February 2020
January 21, 2020
PUPPY POWER—Students enjoyed end-of-the-semester activities at the Silverman Library as part of the University of Buffalo Libraries' Stress Relief Days in December 2019. The offerings included therapy dogs, pingpong, and aromatherapy bracelets.PUPPY POWER—Students enjoyed end-of-the-semester activities at the Silverman Library as part of the University of Buffalo Libraries' Stress Relief Days in December 2019. The offerings included therapy dogs, pingpong, and aromatherapy bracelets.

Campuses across the country are realizing the weight of mental health on America’s college population, and building out services as best as budgets and staffing allow. To that end, faculty may be versed in where to send students in crisis, but not sure where their role lies in tending to their students’ well-being.

New research on the well-being of high-achieving college students found that they are more likely to feel overwhelmed than average-achieving students: 91%, as compared to the national average at 87%, according to the “Healthy Minds Study and National College Health Assessment” from Active Minds, a nonprofit supporting young adult mental health awareness. Unfortunately for faculty, the urge to reach out to students doesn’t come with an immediate task list.

To support a more grassroots effort to help students, professors can help to destigmatize mental illness. Some examples from Laura Horne, Active Minds’ chief program officer:

    • Include self-care tips in the syllabus.
    • Hold brief meditation sessions in class to support mindfulness.
    • Assign self-care assignments.

Landmark mental health settlement reached at Stanford

There’s been growing awareness nationally that students stepping away from their studies due to mental health crises shouldn’t wind up having the rest of their lives on campus turned upside down. This fall, a coalition of Stanford University students reached a settlement agreement with the institution that will result in significant changes to the university’s leave of absence policies and practices.

The aim is to help ensure that students have access to appropriate accommodations and services and are not unnecessarily excluded from campus, particularly housing, according to Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit disability rights legal center that introduced this case back in May 2018. It’s being called an historic settlement that could impact policies at colleges and universities across the country. —Melissa Ezarik

Self-care support in practice

At the University at Buffalo, a decade-old self-care starter kit has never been more relevant. The kit defines six domains of life, and recommends ways to manage each, says Lisa D. Butler, associate professor at the UB’s School of Social Work. Domains include the physical, professional, relationship, emotional, psychological and spiritual realms.

By parsing their lives, it becomes easier to see what domains are well-sustained, and where work may need to be done. “I don’t see it as one-size-fits-all, as the individual student figures out what they need, what domains are important and what can be developed,” says Butler. “I tell my students that self-care is like dental care: You don’t wait until your teeth are falling out to get help.”

However faculty choose to do it, integrating self-care into the classroom builds trust and validates students’ mental health concerns, even if they do not immediately voice them. Vocalizing their own self-care practices also demonstrate to students that self-care is a practice needed throughout life, not just during the semester, says Butler.

“In our society, self-care can be very gimmicky and superficial,” she adds. “But self-care is really about being mindful, being conscious and committed to your long-term well-being.”

Stefanie Botelho is UB’s newsletter editor.