Teaching and Justice

Supporting Student Mental Health

by Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 70% of teenagers reported that mental health issues are growing among their peers.   Spanning gender, socioeconomic status, and race, the survey reported that feelings of anxiety and depression outweighed problems with bullying, drug addiction, or gangs (Horowitz & Graf, 2019).

While the Pew survey is a bit alarming, the results mirror what mental health professionals have been noting for years – student mental health concerns are on the rise.  According to the Healthy Minds Network, 1 in 4 college students report symptoms of anxiety or depression (Eisenberg & Ketchen Lipson, 2018).  Furthermore, there is a large body of research linking anxiety and depression to college academic success (Beiter, et al, 2015; Denizet-Lewis, 2017; Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Hunt, 2009; Horowitz & Graf, 2019).

With a growing awareness about student mental health and academic success, how can faculty within the higher education community help support students in distress?

One approach may be to consider student mental health as both an individual and community concern is essential for learning.  In a 2014 report released in collaboration between NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the American Psychological Association, authors Douce and Keeling state, “the best way for colleges and university to nurture resilience among students is to promote health and well-being, especially mental and behavioral health at both individual and community levels.”

The report lists a number of recommendations faculty may consider in order to support students in distress including “nurturing a supportive tone and attitude about mental health in campus culture, challenge stereotypes about mental health problems, undermine prejudices and stigma about counseling, and provide encouragement to students to reflect on their on mental health and (to) seek services when needed” (2014).

Although these recommendations are useful considerations on how to create and support a culture for student well-being, it is also important to know how to respond to individual students who are in emotional distress.

One relatively obvious strategy faculty can use is to actively reach out to students who are in crisis.  Discretely recommend meeting with students about your observations.  Try to acknowledge to the student you are aware of their signs of distress and offer a space for students to talk.  Actively listen intentionally and carefully to their responses without judgement.  Remember that emotional and mental problems are learning problems.  Showing care for the student and giving space for students to address their mental health concerns may empower students to pursue learning with a greater sense of agency and resiliency (Hurley, 2019; Douce & Keeling, 2014).

However, there are moments when a student’s emotional distress may outweigh your ability to help.  Therefore, consider many of the campus resources that are available for students.  The Dean of Students Office recently published a very helpful brochure to help faculty and staff identify warning signs of students in distress.  The brochure also lists a number of campus resources available for students in need.  The brochure is available in the Resources page of the Reinert Center website [LINK].

Finally, consider supporting Saint Louis University’s chapter of, Active Minds.  Active Minds is the nation’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to utilizing the student voice to raise mental health awareness among college students. Their mission is to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness on college campuses through education, awareness, and conversation. They can be found on social media (Facebook)  and have events throughout the year. Their meetings are held every other Wednesday at 7PM in Xavier Hall 122. To get involved, email Active Minds at activeminds@slu.edu.

As a community, our strength lies in supporting one another in intentional and thoughtful ways.  Prioritizing student mental health and making resources available for students in need can establish a climate of care that supports learning.  If you would like to discuss how to support student well-being in your courses, please consider meeting with someone for the Reinert Center for a confidential consultation [LINK].


Beiter, R., Nash, R., McCrady, M., Rhoades, D., Linscomb, M., Clarahan, M., & Sammut, S.(2015). The prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of college students. Journal of affective disorders173, 90-96.

Eisenberg, D., & Ketchen Lipson, S. (2018). Healthy minds study. The Center for Student Studies at Survey Sciences Group.

Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy9(1).

Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017). Why are more American teenagers than ever suffering from severe anxiety. The New York Times11.

Douce, L. A., & Keeling, R. P. (2014). A Strategic Primer on College Student Mental Health. American Council on Education.

Horowitz, J. M., & Graf, N. (2019). Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers. Pew Research Center.

Hurley, K. (2019). How to Help with College Anxiety. [online] PsyCom.net. Available at: https://www.psycom.net/college-anxiety-student/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].

Novotney, A. (2014). Students under pressure. Monitor on Psychology45(8), 36.