Student Mental Health and Well-Being in Stressful Times

November 09, 2020

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

Many of you have observed, as faculty or staff, the inspiring ways our students are adapting to the challenges of this term, keeping the Compact, and succeeding in their studies. Yet our students are not immune to the stresses that surround all of us. We write to highlight current challenges and offer suggestions, and to remind you of Columbia’s resources that you can call on to support student mental health and well-being.

Common themes: Our campus mental health professionals have identified these themes in their recent conversations with students:

  • Heightened anxiety about current academic, economic, and living circumstances as well as future job opportunities.
  • Difficulty concentrating for some, and for others a hyper-focus on grades that impairs their ability to relax or sleep.
  • Generalized stress associated with the elections.  
  • A sense of isolation and lack of connection.
  • Stress from being impacted personally by COVID-19. Some students are managing situations with ill family members, and others are grieving the loss of loved ones. Many report a fear of contagion and anxiety about health and safety. Racial and ethnic disparities in infections, health care, and mortality have particularly affected Black and Latinx students while anti-Asian hostility related to the coronavirus has affected many of our Asian and Asian American students.
  • Distress and anger about racism and anti-Black violence in the United States. These feelings have been heightened by concerns about election-related conflict.
  • Managing home life while in school. Many students, like faculty and staff, are navigating the boundaries and expectations of being at home while trying to do work. Some students contend with challenging family and home environments that impede their ability to participate in their learning environments.   

Suggestions for faculty and staff: What can you do as a faculty or staff member working with students? The University’s student mental health working group has several suggestions:  

  • Acknowledge the challenges students may be facing. Consider ways to balance high academic standards with flexibility in assignments.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their concerns and challenges. Just taking a few minutes to ask students how they are doing, to listen, and to validate their feelings can communicate caring, foster trust, and help students put aside anxieties and move forward. 
  • Offer opportunities for students to interact and connect with you (e.g., perhaps a virtual field trip or out-of-class activity).
  • Share some of your own strategies for managing stress, if you’re comfortable doing so. 
  • Remind students that they are not alone, we are in this together, and Columbia has abundant resources to support them. Reinforce the idea that asking for help, including with mental health concerns, is a sign of strength. Link students to confidential mental health resources on campus.
  • Look out for students who may be struggling or experiencing distress. This can be harder on Zoom than in person, but signs may include regularly missing assignments, erratic performance, or non-participation. You can contact the student’s advisor or a student affairs staff member in your school about your concerns.    

Resources for Students: The resources for students listed below, as well as other resources for faculty, staff, and researchers on related issues, are described on the University Life website

  • Easy-Access Medical and Mental Health Contact Information (24/7)
    • To reach a medical professional, call 212-854-7426 (Morningside) or 212-305-3400 (CUIMC).
    • To reach a mental health professional, call 212-854-2878 (Morningside) or 212-305-3400 (CUIMC).
  • Virtual Support Groups and Workshops

 We recognize that this also has been a challenging time for faculty and staff, and we want to thank you for all that you are doing to support Columbia students during this term. We encourage you to attend to your own mental health and well-being as well, including with these Columbia resources: the Office of Work/Life, the Employee Assistance Program offered by Human Resources, and CUIMC’s CopeColumbia.

With our deep appreciation,

Suzanne B. Goldberg
Executive Vice President for University Life
Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law

Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

Anil Rustgi
Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine