For Faculty and Staff

As a faculty or staff member, your position gives you an opportunity to directly refer a student to a mental health professional or mental health services that can help. Your interactions with students puts you in a unique position to notice if they are experiencing signs of distress or if a more serious mental health problem may be developing. Students may even come to you when their mental health issues are interfering with their academics. This section can guide you to be prepared for those situations and act as a resource if those situations do come up.

Identifying a Problem

Mental health conditions are hard to identify. They are easier to hide than physical conditions. In your role, signs that you may recognize are changes in grade performance, excessive absences, changes in interactions, or changes in personal dress or hygiene. It can be difficult at times to tell whether a student’s behavior is indicative of a more serious problem, or to know what action to take to help the student. If you are concerned about a student, see our tips for expressing concern and showing support.

See CAPS’ “Guide for Helping Students in Distress” for tips on recognizing students experiencing mild to severe stress and how you may provide assistance.

Assisting a Student in Need

Common Scenarios: Suggestions for what to say or what to do if you find out a student is having personal problems.

Referring to services.  One of the best things you can do to help a student who is struggling with mental health concerns is to refer them to the appropriate resources. It is not your role to diagnose or provide therapy to students. Treatment is available and effective.

Assisting graduate students:  If you are working with graduate students, this resource is intended to serve as a practical guide for use by department and program leadership in preparation for and in the management of situations involving students in need.

Creating a Safe, Accommodating, Inclusive space

To create a classroom that is inclusive of students with mental illness:

  • Be mindful that students with mental illnesses may need to take more frequent breaks
  • Allow students to have food and drinks in class. This can help students with mental illnesses counter the side effects of their medication
  • Provide testing accommodations such as extended time or a distraction-free testing environment
  • Make yourself available to consult with students during regular office hours and through contact by email
  • Demonstrate flexibility and fairness in administering policies and assignments
  • Approach each student with an open mind about their strengths and abilities
  • Clearly delineate expectations for performance
  • Deliver feedback on performance, both positive and corrective, in a timely and constructive fashion

For more information, refer to Service for Students with Disabilities’ faculty handbook.

Confidentiality

It is essential that all mental health information be kept confidential. At no time should you disclose a student’s condition, except at the student’s request.

A reason to break confidentiality is in the event that you think the student may harm themselves or harm other people.

Mental illnesses as disabilities

A mental illness can be a disability if it substantially limits one or more major life activities for a student.

Consider including a statement about disabilities such as the following in your syllabus:

“Any student who feels that they may need an accommodation for any sort of disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours.”

This approach indicates the willingness of the faculty member to provide assistance while preserving students’ privacy. You may also choose to include the contact information for CAPS as well as mentioning the Campus Mind Works website as helpful resources for students.

It is important to note that a mental illness in or of itself does not necessarily constitute a disability. Many mental health conditions can be controlled using a combination of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes so that they do not “substantially limit” a student’s productivity and success in the academic environment.

Request for Accommodations

It is impossible to list accommodations that will work for all students with mental illness because symptoms of mental illness and level of impairment vary broadly. Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) helps provide accommodations for students when needed. To receive services, students must document their condition with SSD and a Disability Coordinator from SSD will help provide them with any necessary accommodations.

Students who have registered with the SSD office and met with their disability coordinator to determine accommodations receive a Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) letter to give to their instructors. The accommodations recommended in these forms are not meant to give students with disabilities an unfair advantage, but rather to give them an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of course content. Although a student may request an academic adjustment at any time, the student should request it as early as possible.

Any faculty member considering denying an accommodation because it modifies an essential course requirement should consult with SSD or the ADA Coordinator. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the student’s verification form, contact the authorizing staff person whose name appears on the form.

Academic difficulty

It is sometimes assumed that students will seek help when they are struggling with a class. But for a number of reasons, students do not always feel comfortable asking for help. The following examples illustrate how to maintain high but realistic expectations for all students:

  • If a student earns a C or lower, inform the student of the need for a meeting to discuss their performance.
  • If a student is absent, show concern about their absence when they return by asking if things are okay.
  • If there are repeated absences, request a meeting with the student to discuss the situation.

Disruptive behavior

You may notice a marked change in a student’s demeanor that may include inappropriate or disruptive behavior. See the following excerpt from The Faculty Handbook (8.D.7):

If a faculty member encounters a student who is behaving in a disruptive or dangerous way in a classroom or other University setting, he or she needs first to determine if there is an immediate threat of violence or other dangerous situation or emergency. If so, 911 should be called promptly, usually by someone else so the faculty member can remain in charge of the class. If there is not an emergency situation, the faculty member should try to calm the immediate situation, dismissing the class if necessary, and then seek assistance from:

  • the department chair,
  • the dean’s office,
  • the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel (764-0304),
  • and/or the Department of Public Safety at 763-1131

If a student exhibits disruptive behavior over a period of time, faculty may wish to call the Office of the Vice President for Student Life (764-5132) to discuss the appropriateness of a Mental Health Advisory Committee review. This is a confidential process that will result in a recommendation to the Vice President. Other support services include:

Self-Care

If you are experiencing distress or mental health problems yourself, The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP) and the University of Michigan Health System Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offer a number of services designed to help staff, faculty, and immediate family members face personal difficulties encountered both at work and at home.

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