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Remember... it is okay to not be okay.

 Main Quad. Credit: Andrew Brodhead

Red Folder

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 Starting from the left: Ayman Babikir, Kirsten Couchman, Trace Guzman, Sam Roach, Dani Lyle and Maya Caulfield. Credit: Andrew Brodhead

Guidance for faculty, staff, and student leaders supporting student well-being in Stanford communities.

Our Stanford communities value and prioritize well-being. As stewards of scholarship, faculty and staff have a tremendous impact on student well-being. We have been through devastating challenges these past couple years, and we know that student distress continues to be elevated by the pandemic and it’s many impacts. Please review the sections below to get a sense of what student communities are experiencing, and how we can best support them.

 

For questions and consultation, contact the Red Folder team.

Architectural details of the sandstone arcades in the Main Quadrangle of Stanford University.

When in doubt about a student’s well-being, consider these options:

Resident Directors (undergrads) | 650.504.8022 

GLO Dean on-call (graduate and professional students) | 650.723.7288, pager ID #25085

Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (postdoc trainees) | 650.725.5075

Your Important Questions

  • What challenges are students experiencing right now?
    • Loneliness and minimal social support. Students may be coming to campus without robust social support networks that are commonly present in “normal” years. After a year of isolation, communities have not had the opportunity to take shape, or maybe some have even disintegrated due to distance. Many folks haven’t found their people, and paradoxically, many are feeling like they’re the only one feeling this way. Creating spaces for meaningful connections between students and prioritizing community will be a priority for all of us in the coming years. More details on loneliness and connection here. 

      Entering an unpredictable period of transition. Yes, these last 18 months have been brutal, and unexpected change continues to be the only constant. Students know that ”everything is different”, but how will it impact their lives? How will all this change affect their time at Stanford, goals for the future, personal, career, and otherwise? Depending on when the pandemic hit a student’s career, many students are feeling the need to make up for lost time and opportunities that are only available to them while at Stanford. They may be feeling that they aren’t doing enough, striving to engage in numerous ways throughout our communities, but also challenged to experience balance, and the necessary rest that is needed. While many things are looking up the world is still saturated with tragedy and devastation. It’s hard to feel safe and secure when so much around us remains unknown. Balancing hope and lingering uncertainty will be an ongoing challenge for us all. 

      Recovering from a collective trauma. We have all changed, and it’ll take some time for us to feel comfortable in many situations, or even in our own skin. We have been presented with unexpected challenges that we were not prepared for, all while also stripping us of the social support we would usually rely on in trying times. While many of us are now too familiar with scarcity mindset, environmental insecurity, social instability, and pessimism about the future, the presence and magnitude of these challenges will not be equitable among students. We need to be intentional about restoring our energy, rebuilding our mental health and well-being, while crucially keeping in mind disparate impacts of the pandemic on student communities, and directing our energies in ways so that all students can flourish here at Stanford.

  • How do I let students know that I care about them, and that they can talk to me?
    • Tell them right from the start. Tell them explicitly, and show them through your actions, that you both care about their well-being and want them to get the support they need while at Stanford. Take the time during your first interaction with students to acknowledge this strange and difficult time we continue to be in, and that you know they are struggling with many challenges. Make sure to highlight that you are a source of support for them, and how they can connect with you when they need.

  • How can I be responsive to students' needs?
    • Talk about the challenges we’re all experiencing
      • Don't ignore the obvious. Talk about losses that COVID has brought us, the isolation and feelings of loneliness, the dual pandemic of pervasive social injustices, and the anxieties of reintegrating into a “new normal”. While this past year has given us opportunities to have these emotionally heavy conversations, being allowed to show their whole, imperfect selves in academic settings can have a huge positive impact on students' well-being.
      • Humanize the situation. We’re coming off an unprecedented year in which the separation of our personal and professional lives decreased dramatically. Your professionalism and status does not suffer from allowing students to understand your life outside of Stanford; quite the opposite. Consider sharing how you’ve coping during this time, what challenges you’ve faced, and any hope you have for the months and years ahead.
      • Be flexible. Of course you will continue to challenge students intellectually, while simultaneously understanding that sufficient emotional support is the critical foundation from which learning occurs. We’ve all learned that students need more support from us than ever, and importantly, that support we give them only enhances their ability to engage academically. Be patient with students, and yourselves, as we continue to figure out what we all need during this year of transition and continuing uncertainty.

      Make space for well-being
      • Be Proactive.
      Have conversations about well-being with students early and often. This normalizes the process of accessing help and prioritizing our well-being. Ask students what kind of support they need from you. This is an opportunity for you to establish norms of open communication and create psychological safety for students.
      • Create space/time for emotional expression. Your role is to be a warm, supportive presence for students who are struggling. Allow students to connect with each other and share what they’ve been feeling, and when possible, integrate the intellectual and emotional selves in the classroom.
      • Practice self-care (and talk about it!). Supporting students' well-being can take a toll on our own. If this happens, please do what you need to recover and recharge. When students see you practicing self-care, or when you talk to them about it, they realize that their community supports and prioritizes self-care. Remember that the Faculty Staff Help Center is available to you as a confidential resource to support your mental health and well-being.
      • Instill hope. You’re in a powerful position, and what you say greatly impacts students. Levity and hope bolster our spirits during difficult times. When appropriate, create space for humor, share uplifting news, and model realistic optimism.

      Facilitate connection
      • Connect them to other support resources. You are a wonderful first source of support for students, but you shouldn’t do it alone. Stanford is full of resources dedicated to student mental health and well-being. Connect students to these resources to supplement the support you’re already providing.
      • If possible, connect with students individually.  It can be difficult to gauge how students are faring without seeing them in person, or only seeing them in a group context. Connect to students one-on-one when possible, and try out modes of private conversation that work for you. This creates a safe space for students to share their struggles with you.
      • Connect students to each other. When feasible, offer students an opportunity to connect with each other outside of class. Students will likely still be feeling isolated and lonely even when on campus. Classroom peer-to-peer  interactions provide structured and safe social opportunities for students to connect and expand their community outside of their residence. Consider utilizing pair and small group work throughout the year.

How to Respond to a Student in Distress

  • Say What You See
    • Be direct. Let the student know that you've noticed a change and you want to talk. Say what you've noticed, and avoid making any judgement or assumptions. Start this conversation in a setting where the student will feel safe to be open and honest with you. Follow-up with your Resident Directors (for undergrads), Graduate Life Office Dean (for graduate and professional students), or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (for postdoc trainees) if you still have concerns..

      Everyone is distressed. Operate under the assumption that anyone you’re interacting with is experiencing significant challenges and feeling distressed, whether they’re showing it or not. Err on the side of checking in with students frequently and warmly. We all could benefit from creating a culture of care in which we check-in with each other, acknowledge and make space for our whole, complex selves.

  • Indicators of Distress
    • Causes of Distress

    • Unwanted changes and/or ongoing challenges in their lives. In general, distress occurs when the amount of stress exceeds the perceived resources (both internal and external) one has to handle it. How distress appears on the surface can vary greatly between people. Sometimes you won’t see any overt signs of distress, and yet you’re aware of many things happening in the world that are causing distress in students’ lives. Distress is not always obvious, but it’s still there.

      • Most distress comes from the loss (or even anticipated loss) of important mental health elements, such as: connection, status, health, purpose/meaning, stability/security, hope, community, time, comfort,  joy, peace, identity.

      Signs of Distress

      Academic

      • Repeated absences and/or a decline in quality of work or classroom performance
      • Essays or creative work that include disturbing content and/or themes of despair, hopelessness, suicide, violence, death, or aggression
      • Multiple requests for extensions or grades of Incomplete

      Physical

      • Marked changes in physical appearance
      • Repeatedly appearing sick, excessively fatigued
      • Obvious change in mental state and/or apparent intoxication
      • Other behavior that doesn’t seem to match the context/setting

      Inter/Intrapersonal

      • Direct comments about distress, feelings of overwhelm, family problems, etc.
      • Signs/expressions of hopelessness, worthlessness, or shame
      • Drastic change in interactions with others, acting out of character
      • Expressions of concern by peers
      • Implied or direct threats of harm to self/others
      • Self-injurious, destructive, or reckless behavior
  • Show You Care
    • Be warm. We all need to know others care about us. Showing you care about a student's well-being can have a positive impact on their mental well-being, and increase the likelihood they seek help if needed. Warmth and psychological safety can be built through the words you use, the tone of your voice, body language, and more.

      Build trust. Ask what they need. The kind of support a student needs will change based on the context, and the only way to know what they need from you is to ask. Your words are powerful. What you say and how you say it can signal to students not only that you care about them, but that you're also a safe person to reach out to.

  • Hear Them Out
    • Be there to listen. Your priority is to provide a space for the student to speak and to be heard. They need you to be warm, compassionate, and fully present. Listen patiently as you try to understand where they're coming from, and take time to affirm their emotional experience. Your full presence in itself can be healing. 

      Be curious. As an active listener, your job is to ask follow-up and open-ended questions that might help you understand the student, ensuring they feel heard. Most importantly, listen and let them speak. “Awkward” silences are often, actually, helpful silences that demonstrate both the safety of your presence and your willingness to be patient and giving with your time.

      Share wisely. It's typically not helpful to share your experiences while a student is sharing theirs. Your primary role is to be present for the student, validate their experience, and connect them to additional support resources. Sometimes, usually after the student has finished sharing, it can be helpful for a student to hear about your own experiences with mental health and well-being, including positive interactions you've had with mental health resources.

      Focus on listening. Optional questions/statements to deepen understanding.

  • Know Your Role
    • Safety first. Do not hesitate to call Public Safety (911) for help. Your safety, and that of our students and community, is our top priority.

      Consult. Call the Resident Directors, GLO Dean on-call, or CAPS for further consultation whenever you need. These resources can give you advice, or help take over a situation that has escalated and requires mobilization of many resources.

      Set clear boundaries. Set boundaries around anything that helps to preserve your own mental well-being. You can’t give students the support they need if you are suffering. If a student starts treating you like a therapist then you’ve clearly done a good job of building rapport, but make sure you connect them to professional resources that can meet their needs. Students want to know what kind of support they can receive from you, and where they can go for more/different support. We want all our students to have many layers of emotional support instead of relying on just one individual to meet these needs.

      Warmth. Your role is to be a warm, supportive presence for this student who is struggling. You’re not there to fix anything or give unsolicited advice. Acknowledge difficult emotions, and instill hope that, with help, things can get better.

      Normalize help-seeking. College is challenging under normal circumstances, and the world keeps serving up new challenges. To get through it we all need multiple sources of support. One key way to support students is to normalize and encourage help-seeking. You can praise them for reaching out to you for help, or even talking about the importance of building a multi-layered support system in your own life. 

  • Connect to Help
    • Determine need. Does the student need resources for social connection, specialized professional help, or is this an emergency?

      Reaffirm your connection. Sometimes communicating to a student that they may benefit from professional help can feel like they are being passed off as a problem or burden. Prevent this by explicitly reaffirming your connection with them. For example, let them know you want to stay connected as they explore other resources.

      Setting expectations about resources. Help the student be realistic about what to expect from the resource and on what timeline. No single  resource can meet all student needs. It often takes patience to access a resource, and persistence to experience the benefits. 

      Help them connect to resources. Students in distress may need help connecting with a resource. Showing them how to access a resource increases the likelihood that they actually do. Help-seeking requires knowledge and skill sets that may be new to the student. Your help in demonstrating the help-seeking process teaches them what it’s actually like, and can build their confidence to do it on their own in the future. 

      Follow-up. Reconnect with the student to make sure that they successfully connected with the resources that you suggested. This reminds them that you care about them, and helps you understand where they’re at in the process of building their support system.

      Resource wasn’t what the student needed. This is a normal part of the process to get help. Ask follow-up questions to understand what about the resource didn’t fit their needs, and to determine which other resources may be a better fit.

      Severity of situation unclear. It’s possible the severity of the situation won’t be obvious, and you won’t know which resource is the best fit. In that case always consult with a Resident Director, GLO Dean, CAPS, or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Resources for Connection and Referrals

 6/1998 Wildflowers. Credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Privacy and Information Sharing

Professionals affiliated with Confidential Resources (CR) will gladly receive information from you about a student’s well-being, but, due to FERPA, HIPAA, or professional ethics, some resources, licensed healthcare providers in particular, are often unable to provide reciprocal information to you regarding the student. This can be frustrating but is an essential ethical and legal safeguard for student privacy and confidentiality.

Campus Security Authority and Mandated Reporter regulations may also apply to many or all of the resources listed in this guide.
 

We welcome your feedback.

Email us with comments and suggestions.

Version 4.1 — August 2021

Say/Show/Hear/Know/Connect” content adapted with permission from Jack.org’s Be There resources.