Often, professors do not regard students’ mental health as seriously as their physical health. Mental health concerns are strikingly prevalent on college campuses, and professors must take into account students’ mental needs — not just physical ones.
According to Chadron State College, which took data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four people between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. SIUE Counseling Services reported unspecified anxiety disorder as one of the top two mental health concerns that they’ve seen between January and November 2018.
Other common concerns seen by Counseling Services included depressive disorders, other anxiety disorders and relationship distress.
Mental health concerns may negatively impact a student’s academic performance. According to Bruce Van Stone on Teach Magazine, students with mental health concerns may experience fluctuations or loss of motivation. Mental health concerns may affect a student’s ability to complete assignments in a timely manner or cause them to be overwhelmed by the work.
Van Stone urges that deadlines be flexible if a student expresses concern. Just like physical illnesses, mental health concerns are not always predictable. Professors can show they recognize this by allowing students to have a few extensions of their choice without points being deducted. To punish students for their mental health is to punish them for something they cannot always control.
Professors should not require strict documentation from a student who missed class due to a mental health concern. How can I possibly show documentation of having a mental health crisis? Should I record my breakdown?
When a student is struggling with a mental health concern, making it to class all the time can be difficult. Van Stone recommends professors make it known to students that it is possible to catch up in a class they have been absent in. Notes should be regularly posted online as well as updates to what was done in class if the syllabus changed.
Even if professors take this suggestion, missing a couple of classes in a course in which participation is a hefty part of the grade can still be problematic. If a student misses a few of these classes or has trouble speaking in class due to anxiety, their grade can be tanked. At other universities, suggestions have been made to fix this problem such as alternative participation points, such as posting in online forums.
For students who are overwhelmed easily due to mental health concerns, Van Stone said breaking big projects into smaller chunks and keeping reading assignments manageable is a must. Some professors may see this as hand-holding as this is higher-level education. Not all students come to college knowing how to space out large tasks, and if they won’t learn it here, where will they? Please, help students out.
Author Henry G. Brzycki advocates for the “Self Across the Curriculum Approach.” This method involves educators meeting with students to talk about their purposes in life in hopes that students will develop intrinsic motivation to solve their problems. However, the small steps outlined above are enough. SIUE doesn’t need a new program to be implemented but rather a better understanding and commitment to mental health by professors.
It’s not the professor’s job to diagnose or treat students with mental health concerns, and they shouldn’t be expected to do so. However, it’s their job to help students learn. Professors aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t take students’ mental health into account by structuring their courses to account for this.
Therefore, professors should work with students to see what’s best for them, including restructuring class participation and other actions.