A Letter to Student Mental Health Providers

Because sometimes, the person who has been there for everyone needs someone to be there for them.

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Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Dear Student Mental Health Providers,

It is hard to believe that we are approaching a new academic year. What an unimaginable few months it has been. Months ago, you were going through your daily lives: meeting with students, convening with colleagues, commuting to and from work, and doing the best you could to make a difference at your workplace. Then, suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and the world and its workings changed drastically. You may have been thrust into abruptly transitioning to remote learning and telemental health, experiencing ranging emotions, having to navigate working where you live and living where you work, and scrambling to figure out how you’d continue supporting the mental health needs of students at a time when it may be more critical than ever.

You may have personally experienced financial or housing insecurities, or supporting loved ones and colleagues as they navigate job loss. You’ve likely been placed in the position of educating on the impact that this pandemic, as well as the social injustice and racism in our country, will have on the mental health of students, faculty, and staff. Perhaps you or a loved one have even experienced the coronavirus first hand. There hasn’t been a moment of clarity, certainty, or feeling of ease or calm for many. And, as a counselor, your vocation may be front and center in your personal relationships more than it otherwise would be.

But sometimes, the person who has been there for everyone needs someone to be there for them. And your work is more important than ever. Your guidance, leadership, and expertise will help pave the way for student well-being and academic success during an unprecedented time in which the importance of mental health is unmistakable alongside physical wellness. The following strategies are intended to support you in nourishing your mind, leveraging your expertise, and thinking strategically about how to best position the tremendous value that you bring to any room that you occupy.

Embrace your role as a mental health convener

We have long seen that the work of supporting students’ mental health cannot be led by counselors alone. As mental health leaders, you are in a unique position to invite everyone — faculty, staff, wellness services, campus safety, leadership, custodians, athletics, student leaders, communications/marketing, administrators — to play a part in building a school culture that promotes emotional support and resiliency. If this work is new to you, start small. Meet with your career services or guidance staff to talk about how life skills, resume-building, and networking opportunities support students’ mental health. Talk to academic affairs and academic support centers about how we can best support faculty right now and ways to partner to reach students through syllabi statements, tutoring, and tackling exam anxiety. Hold a space to have open dialogue with security staff about how they are feeling right now. Convene your counseling staff peers in a forum to share about what is going on for them. To serve students well, we’re going to need to approach it with a community-wide team approach.

Know that you aren’t alone

And your fellow counseling staff are not alone in this work, either. There are many resources and networks available to support you in this work. Start with those offered by The 20×30 Network, Active Minds, The American College Health Association, EVERFI’s Campus Prevention Network or K12 Educator Network, The Healthy Minds Network, The Jed Foundation, The Steve Fund, and others.

Prioritize your own wellness

It’s also important to practice what we preach by modeling the healthy behaviors we want our students to cultivate. It’s OK to not always be available. You cannot and do not need to operate as a 24-hour Help Desk. Take the time you need to recharge and preserve your own creativity and autonomy. Say “no” and set boundaries when needed. Take the time you need to eat nutritious foods, exercise, play, rest, reflect, stretch, and grow in your life. Offer yourself a mini sabbatical everyday to reflect on what sustains you and to connect with the world beyond yourself and your work.

Remember your “why”

Sometimes, especially during times when tensions are high, it can be easy to forget how big of a difference your work makes. You’ve been a beacon of hope for the student who is struggling to transition to school. You’ve been a confidante for the student who is affirming a part of their identity that they have not yet been able to share publicly. You’ve likely even been the person to save a student’s life. 

Since, in this work, the “thank you’s” can sometimes go unseen, we’ve created this resource where you can read notes of appreciation from students to their college therapist. (And students, if you are interested in leaving a message of encouragement for your favorite counselor, you can do so here.)

Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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