TimelyMD interviewed two experienced higher ed professionals about what works when it comes to equipping college students to manage their mental and physical well-being — Dr. Lisa Caldera, Ed.D. and Nick Swedick, M.A. Dr. Caldera is the Senior Associate Dean in Residential Education at Stanford University and Swedick is the Assistant Dean of Students at The King’s College.
In our conversation, Dr. Caldera and Swedick share how their campuses support the mental health of students and leverage technology for student care. Additionally, both discuss the professional development opportunities they’ve had during this unprecedented time in higher ed.
Thank you both for taking time to share your experience and insight. As you know, colleges and universities are finding their footing in these unprecedented days. So, let’s talk about how you are helping your students stay healthy and safe this year. What factors are most important for the mental and physical health of students?
Swedick: Developing healthy habits is the best way students can prevent health concerns from
arising. Getting good sleep, eating a healthy, balanced diet and instituting an exercise regimen are important to maintaining good health. Additionally, habits such as meditation, participating in faith-based practices if the student belongs to spiritual practice, or restricting and/or refraining from social media can help maintain mental health.
I won’t say everyone needs to delete their social media accounts, but we know social media negatively affects individuals’ mental health. For some, deleting social media is best, but everyone should develop a plan to limit his or her time using social media.
What habits do you encourage students to adopt to maintain their well-being, Lisa?
Caldera: There are many perceived barriers for students’ maintaining a sense of well-being. One habit for students to practice is to maintain boundaries in terms of knowing what their needs are and making decisions that help them meet those needs. This can be difficult especially when setting boundaries with peers, which is why it’s important to emphasize that this is an ongoing practice.
Another good habit is for students to allow themselves to be OK with not being OK sometimes. The assumption that everyone is always happy creates unrealistic expectations about what it means to be a college student.
What’s been the biggest challenge in maintaining the health of your students?
Caldera: One of the major challenges is the way in which the on-campus experience has been reshaped by COVID-19. With many students being further marginalized by the pandemic, the question of maintaining a healthy student body has become more complicated. Student needs are continuing to evolve at a rapid pace and colleges are being charged to tailor their support and resources to meet today’s college student needs.
Swedick: I would also say that there are external pressures on students that can lead to unhealthy behaviors, like social pressure to make poor choices when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Or pressure to participate in too many extracurriculars. Financial pressure to work to pay for college can lead to working too many hours, which can lead to not getting enough sleep. Academic pressure can come internally from a student or externally from family members that expect perfection when it comes to grades. All of these pressures often lead to an unhealthy balance in life and keep students from practicing healthy habits.
Given all these challenges, what resources have been valuable to you as a student development professional?
Swedick: I have access to wonderful resources provided by the City of New York. One example is a mental health first aid training course. Our counseling department brought this resource to campus so that all staff and faculty had the option to participate in an all-day training focused on caring for individuals struggling with mental health.
Another great resource has been participating in consortiums with other professionals in the region. These consortiums provide opportunities for connecting with other institutions and learning best practices for supporting healthy living within our student populations.
What resources have you found helpful at Stanford University, Lisa?
Caldera: I love keeping up with new trends and research in the field of student development. So, professional associations like Higher Education Case Managers Association (HECMA), National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) have all supported my own professional development. Engaging with diverse colleagues has shaped my outlook on college student experiences, since it can be too easy to slip into a narrow mindset.
I have also enjoyed creating a shared learning environment with student leaders. Throughout my professional career, I have learned so much from what students have shared about their day-to-day experiences. Maintaining close connections with students is key.
What technological resources have you each found helpful?
Caldera: There are many great ways to leverage technology to meet college students where they are, in terms of communication and connectedness. For starters, there’s incredible value in talking with students to get a sense of what kind of technology they’re already using. This can give you a great starting point to become familiar with what resonates most with your student population. Examples range from Slack (ongoing communication/team planning), Canvas (online learning), Zoom (virtual meetings) and Houseparty (virtual programming).
Swedick: And, technology can help students develop healthy habits. There are many exercise apps a student can utilize to develop workout plans. Wearable technology such as FitBit or Apple Watch exists to track things like activity and sleep, and can ensure students are getting a healthy amount of each. Apps like Headspace can help students practice meditation.
For mental health, hotlines that allow students to call or text 24/7/365 to speak with mental health advocates are extremely helpful. Thanks to technology, the barriers to care are almost completely eliminated.
The King’s College is a partner of TimelyMD, and provides telehealth services for physical and mental health for its students. Nick, can you tell us about the experience partnering with TimelyMD?
Swedick: We use TimelyMD to augment our on-campus counseling center. Like many colleges, our in-person counseling center is usually completely booked by mid-semester, and is only available during a specific set of hours during the work week. TimelyMD’s counseling services allow our counselors to provide an option to students waiting for an in-person slot.
Additionally, TalkNow — 24/7/365 immediate access to a mental health professional — covers students’ needs that our counseling center cannot. For example, a student who experiences a panic attack at midnight when studying for finals cannot see a counselor with our counseling center because it is closed. With TimelyMD, the student can still connect with a mental health professional.
Students often ignore their minor health issues because they don’t want to deal with the logistics, determine if insurance is accepted or go to the physical location. However, TimelyMD removes all of those hurdles. I’ve seen more of our students receive care for minor illness and health concerns since we began using TimelyMD.