New report finds faculty dealing with increasingly distressed students and in need of more support

First of its kind Survey on Faculty’s Response to Student Mental Health Provides Key Takeaways for Colleges in Addressing Campus Mental Health Crisis

Faculty seek more support in dealing with students’ mental health and see problem worsening since COVID-19


A new survey by the Boston University School of Public Health, the Healthy Minds Network, and the Mary Christie Foundation found that nearly 80% of higher education faculty report dealing with student mental health issues. Relatively few have received training and only about half say they can recognize a student in distress. A strong majority would welcome more support from their institutions as they view the situation worsening since COVID-19.

In this first-of-its-kind research, “The Role of Faculty in Student Mental Health,” shines light on what has become an increasingly important factor in addressing the campus mental health crisis – the role of faculty who can be the first point of contact for students in distress, particularly now with online learning.  The pilot survey, conducted at 12 colleges and universities of varying profiles across the country, queried nearly 1,700 faculty on a range of issues including their perceptions of student mental health needs, faculty’s ability to identify mental and behavioral health issues in students, their comfort level in reaching out to students on these issues, and the toll this has taken on their own mental health.

“Faculty’s involvement in student mental health has become increasingly important given their proximity to and relationship with students, especially in remote learning environments,” said Sarah Ketchen Lipson, Ph.D., Ed.M., Principal Investigator of the survey, Assistant Professor at BU School of Public Health, and co-Principal Investigator of the national Healthy Minds Study.  “The survey data reveal that faculty members are aware that many students are struggling and they want more resources to be able to support students effectively.”

“Through this data, colleges and universities have an opportunity to clarify, support, and improve faculty’s role in the healthy development of our students,” said Nick Motu, Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which funded the survey.

The survey, administered during the start of the spring 2021 semester, reflects the circumstances of a turbulent year marked by the pandemic and racial injustices.  Almost 90% of faculty believe student mental health has worsened since COVID-19 and many see their own mental health at risk.  In a concerning finding on campus climate, a large number of Black and Latinx faculty believe their climates are unwelcoming to students of color, which can further exacerbate the mental health issues of these students.

“If this year has taught us anything it is that student mental health is influenced by many factors and involves the participation of all campus stakeholders,” said Zoe Ragouzeos, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Counseling and Wellness Services at New York University and President of the Mary Christie Foundation.  “That said, we know that most professors do not have expertise in mental health. We want to work with them and all other colleagues throughout the university in a coordinated way that centers the mental health and wellbeing of all students.”

Key Findings:

  • 87 percent of faculty surveyed believe that student mental health has worsened or significantly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 79 percent have had one-on-one phone, video, or email conversations with students in the past 12 months regarding student mental health and wellness.
  • Faculty outreach varies significantly by gender. Approximately 85 percent of female faculty and 84 percent of transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming faculty report having these conversations within the past twelve months, compared to 71 percent of male faculty.
  • Only 51 percent* of faculty reported that they have a good idea of how to recognize that a student is in emotional or mental distress and just 29 percent report having taken mental health gatekeeper training. Only 29 percent* report having a good idea of how to recognize that a student is experiencing signs of a substance use disorder (e.g., alcoholism, drug abuse/misuse).
  • Nearly 70 percent* of faculty are motivated to strengthen their role in supporting student mental health and 61 percent* believe it should be mandatory that all faculty receive basic training in how to respond to students experiencing mental or emotional distress.
  • On campus climate, 55 percent of faculty believe their institutions are somewhat welcoming or welcoming toward students of color. Large numbers of Hispanic or Latinx faculty (58 percent) and Black or African American faculty (39 percent) believe their institution is hostile or somewhat hostile toward students of color.
  • More than 1 in 5 faculty members agree or strongly agree that supporting students’ mental health has taken a toll on their own mental health. Close to half (46%) believe their institution should invest more in supporting faculty mental health and wellbeing.

*Agree or Strongly Agree

The report concludes that more work needs to be done on campuses to support faculty in identifying and referring students in mental distress and/or with substance use issues through a variety of strategies.  The work to improve campus climates is critical, not just in making campuses inclusive, positive environments for all students, but also to help faculty of color build the level of trust in their institutions they need to refer and support these students.  Finally, schools should continue to prioritize mental health and help-seeking behaviors for all campus stakeholders, particularly given the impact of COVID-19.

About Boston University School of Public Health:
Founded in 1976, Boston University School of Public Health is one of the top five ranked private schools of public health in the world. It offers master’s- and doctoral-level education in public health. The faculty in six departments conduct policy-changing public health research around the world, with the mission of improving the health of populations—especially the disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable—locally and globally.

About the Healthy Minds Netowrk
Established in 2007 and based at the University of Michigan and Boston University, the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health (HMN) is led by an interdisciplinary team of scholars from public health, education, medicine, psychology, and information sciences. Taking a public health approach, HMN generates and shares research on the mental health of young people. HMN is dedicated to improving the mental and emotional well-being of young people through innovative, multidisciplinary scholarship. HMN addresses the connection between the mental health of adolescents and young adults and their health behaviors, physical health, and social, educational, and economic outcomes.

About the Mary Christie Foundation
The Mary Christie Institute Foundation is a national thought leadership organization dedicated to the improved mental health and wellbeing of teens and young adults with a particular focus on college students.  Through research, convening, and publishing, the Institute contributes to the examination and resolution of the myriad of mental health and wellbeing issues experienced by today’s emerging adults, from anxiety, depression and addiction to racial trauma, equity and inclusion.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is the nation’s largest nonprofit treatment provider, with a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center. Singularly focused on the problem of addiction, the Foundation includes: the nation’s largest recovery publishing house; a fully-accredited graduate school of addiction studies; a dedicated addiction research center; intensive educational programs for medical students and professionals; community and school-based prevention programs and services; unique family and children’s programs; and an influential institute for recovery advocacy and policy.