Aug. 31, 2020

Educators: Start your semester off with the mental health tools you need

First-hand advice and resources for students’ (and your own) success
Alexander Hill
Alexander Hill

The fall semester begins next week, and with it, educators face many new realities in their learning environments, both virtually, and face to face. Now, more than ever, the mental wellness of students and instructors alike is top of mind.

“Educators face a challenging task to rethink their course structures this fall, while still developing and encouraging authentic relationships with, and between, their students,” says Dr. Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic). “Taking care of our mental health in this process is hugely important, and we want both instructors and students to know the ways that UCalgary can support them.”

Bringing conversations into the classroom

For Alexander Hill, professor in the Department of History (pictured above), mental health has been an increasing priority in his classroom since he began teaching at UCalgary 16 years ago. “Having had my own struggles with OCD-thinking, I appreciate how some of the personal characteristics like obsession that are common in academia can sometimes be helpful in our work, but at the same time need to be kept in check,” he says.

“My own experiences make it easier for me to spot when my students may be heading towards trouble and be more understanding in helping them cope and succeed.”

Hill emphasizes how important keeping in touch with students is for their well-being. “Even if it is just dropping your graduate students a line now and again to see how things are going. Encouraging your students to do something other than work is very important — even if that means you get their assignment or thesis chapter a little later!”

While instructors are encouraged to check in with students and be mindful of their well-being, UCalgary recommends referring students directly to supports on campus when they need more help. Here are some key resources instructors can share with their students:

  • Mental Health Minute PowerPoints
    Download this short presentation to include in your first week of classes and during peak stress times.
  • Student Wellness Services
    Well-being services for UCalgary students, from medical to mental health. New this fall is single session counselling, a 90-minute quickly accessible appointment. To access, call 403-210-9355.
  • Mental health resources during COVID-19
    Access resources to normalize feelings of distress during the pandemic, as well as more UCalgary resources including webinars for well-being, mental health tips for working from home, and community support for intimate-partner violence and substance abuse.
  • Wellness FAQs section
    A recently added FAQ section for students about a range of mental health-related questions.
  • Campus Mental Health Strategy Get Support section for students
    Resources for students facing acute distress, as well as broader wellness supports including academic, social, substance use and sexual violence.

If you are concerned about a student’s well-being, you can contact the Student at Risk Team.

And if you are worried about a student’s immediate safety, call 9-1-1 or call Campus Security: 403-220-5333.

Keeping afloat while supporting others

With the stressors and challenges that have emerged in the past several months, it is vital for educators to take care of their own mental wellness. Living by his own advice to take breaks has been key to Hill’s personal mental wellness during this challenging time.

Sometimes I just need to take some time from work and 'smell the roses' — be that petting the cat or something as simple as going outside, closing your eyes and feeling the warmth of the sun on your face.

Support is available for academic staff at UCalgary for a wide range of mental health needs.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential.