Are You Prepared to Respond to Students’ Mental Health Issues?

I’m the daughter of a psychiatric social worker. Conversations about mental health issues – especially acute cases (like a client who ate cigarettes or an ER patient who consumed a bottle of Clorox) – were not uncommon at mealtimes growing up. For nearly my entire life my dad worked at a county clinic (which later privatized) while also serving on-call for the local hospital. He had a pager (yes, this was the 90s) which beeped when the emergency room needed him to come in to conduct a psychiatric evaluation. More often than not he wasn’t called out, and we joked about his pretty sweet gig: “sleeping for dollars.”

Until recently. Within the last ten year or so, there has not been a single night during which my dad has slept for dollars. He’s been called out – often more than once or all night long – every time he’s been on-call. While we can debate the reasons why, no one will argue the fact that mental health issues are on the rise in our local communities and on our college campuses today. If we want to be prepared to serve our current students, we need far more knowledge and skills than what I picked up at the dinner table growing up.

On many campuses the demand for counseling services far exceeds the professional help available. Colleges and universities across the nation are looking for creative ways to provide students with more access to care while also working within the limits of their budgets and personnel. Faculty and staff without formal counseling degrees or licenses can no longer rely on those who do to solely meet the demands of students in distress. If we want to care for students in this present moment, we must see ourselves as “allied professional counselors” and get the training we need to be effective helpers.

Whether you work in college ministry, student affairs, or as a faculty member, here are some practical suggestions for preparing to serve students and their mental health needs:

Caring for students and their mental health is a shared objective. No matter our role, we’re not in this alone, nor should we try to be. Caring for students’ mental health creates a beautiful opportunity to “soften silos” across campus, departments, or college ministry tribes as we collaborate towards a shared end. It’s incredibly important to know when and where to make referrals to professionals. At the same time, when we refer a student, it doesn’t mean we drop them or stop caring. As a college ministers, my staff team and I would often make referrals; however, we continued to meet with and disciple students while they also met regularly with a trained therapist. In some cases, students chose to give us access to the information discussed in counseling sessions so we could all work together in helping the student become as healthy as possible. Because students often have touchpoints with caring individuals across different functional areas on campus, many colleges have “care teams” who come together to discuss and create a shared plan for helping the student. We are not alone. As we build trusted relationships across campus and the community, the better prepared we will be serve our students.

Though we’re not alone, college ministers and student development professionals are often first responders to mental health issues and crisis. As students build relationships with us and share their dilemmas, it’s likely that we may be the first to know about a serious issue (even before a roommate, parent, or professor). As we minister on the front lines, it’s crucial that we’re equipped with mental health first aid training. If you don’t already have this training, check into the next offering on your campus or in your community (or go here).

We need to know how to recognize and respond to potential warning signs of mental health issues, and to know when, how, and where to refer. We should

  • Know when to call the police or 911
  • Have an updated list of licensed on-campus and/or community counselors
  • Understand confidentiality (what it is and what it not, given our roles)
  • Know that all student affairs professionals are mandated reporters
  • Know who our Title IX officers are on campus

Let’s commit to equipping ourselves so we can better resources our students.

On one hand there are more students seeking services than ever before, but on the other hand there are far too many students suffering in silence. Students need to know they’re not alone. As someone dedicated to preparing students for life after college, it’s my deep hope that struggling students seek help before they graduate. Issues that present themselves in college may become more complex during the transitional time of leaving college. And, after graduation, students might find themselves with far less support.

We can help normalize mental health issues for our students by dealing with our biases as well as sharing the stories of those who have battled issues and found help. For example, each year (at multiple points) we would bring a panel of recent alumni before our current students. One year, a recent graduate shared some of her mental health struggles post-college and how a professional counselor helped her tremendously. This opened the door for another student in the room to come forward with her issues; she asked for a referral that night, and started getting the help she needed.

Every student should have access to the help they need. The more we collaborate and equip ourselves the better opportunity we have to serve students and their mental health issues. Few issues are matters of life and death. This could be one of them. So, let’s continue to “wake up” to the moment around us (literally, as in the case of my dad), and get what we need to love and serve our students.

What have you done to prepare yourself to serve students and their mental health issues?

What questions does this topic raise for you in your context?

This article is influenced by those who have shaped my understanding of mental health issues and counseling college students: Roger Young, Eric Wessel, Katie Tenny, Bec Shepski, Amy Solmon, Caleb P. Thompson, and the students I have journeyed with over the years. I also referred to Helping College Students by Amy Reynolds and this article, Distress Signals, in Messiah College’s Bridge Magazine (Winter 2018 Edition).  h

5 Questions to Ask Recent Alumni

As you reach out to recent graduates, here are some questions you can ask. I’m curious, what questions would you add to these?

Check out the article (from the archives) and stop back over to the blog here to comment! I’d love to hear from you. Most importantly, I’d love to know what you’re learning as you take a moment — perhaps right now — to reach out to a recent graduate. Today is a great day to check-in and encourage someone on his/her post-college journey! 🙂

Do These First: 3 Things Every Recent Should Prioritize After College

photo credit: InterVarsity

Life after college often feels overwhelming for recent graduates. It’s hard to know where to start. A few years ago, I reached out to a number of alums and asked them to share their advice on what to do first.

Here’s an article (from the archives) on 3 things every recent gradate should prioritize. It’s written for recent graduates, so feel free to pass it to your alums! 

More than the ideas in the article, I hope this post is an encouragement to send a text, make a call, or say a prayer for your recent graduates.

We need each other to stay faithful, and our former students need heaps of encouragement in this transition.

Will you take a quick action today to reach out to one or more of your alums? Let me know!

PS I’m curious what you would add to this article. What do you encourage your recent graduates to do first? Leave a comment on the blog here (below) – I’d love to hear from you!

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done? A podcast interview on life, start-ups and “after college.”

I recently had the opportunity to interview with Colleen Batchelder, the founder of LOUD Summit, a movement that exists to engage, empower and equip Millennials and Gen Z to change the world and be a light of hope.

In in the interview, I discuss themes of the book, but we also talked about business start-ups…and life — how we keeping putting one foot in front of the other to pursue faithfulness.

Check it out here.

If you listen until the end, you’ll get to hear my answers to the LOUD questions, which are the most fun!

  • What do you love most about life?
  • What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?
  • When have you felt like an underdog?
  • When have you had to depend on God most?

Don’t forget to leave a comment below about what stands out to you most about the interview. Or, share your answer to one more of these questions above. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

It’s Okay to Cry: Helping Seniors Leave Well

Here’s an article (from the archives) that helps us encourage our students to leave well. It’s easy for students (and even for us) to stuff our emotions. But this isn’t healthy.

It’s okay to call it [the ending of college] what it is. It’s okay for our students to cry. And for us to do the same if we need to!

Check out the article, and then share one thing that you do to help students leave well. Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

P.S. Something you don’t need to cry about, but might if you don’t act soon: 🙂

The LAST day to register for the Live Training Course on Equipping Students for Life After College is Monday, 5/13.  

This 5 week course is for practitioners (college ministers, church leaders, and student affairs professionals) who are looking to start new initiatives or take their current efforts to the next level.

I have a some seats left in the Wednesday Class (12-1pm ET), which begins next week, May 15th. All teaching is live, but participants log-in from the comforts of their office or home.

Here’s the direct link to register. Hope to see you there! 

The Best Graduation Gift You Can Give Your Seniors

Last week, I had the joy of teaching a group of students who are about to graduate from an intensive, 9 month discipleship experience called OneLife. The program director invited me to help these students transition, and one of his hopes was that the students leave with confidence about their next steps (even in the unknown).   

We covered a lot of ground in my few days with them, but the most important thing I offered went beyond tips for transitions or practical advice on money management (crucial as these are).   

If we want to help our students thrive in the transition, they need deep and timely reminders of God’s character and goodness. Dwelling on who God is (the same God yesterday, today and forever) and who we are because of him is what grounds us in life’s transitions.   

This is the most important gift we can give.  

At OneLife, we took time to reflect on the attributes of God as well as on our identity in Christ. I led the students through an activity that invited them to consider how they image God. Without even realizing it, our picture of God may be far from who he describes himself to be and who he reveals himself as in the person of Jesus. 

For many years, I pictured God as a lightning-bold-throwing God, ready to reprimand me if I stepped out of line. I’ve also imaged him as a “carrot-dangling” God — a deity who tantalizes me with good gifts, but then quickly takes them away. I needed a new image.   

I invited the students to select actual images (printed on card stock) that connected with them. I also asked them to reflect, journal and free write, using these two downloadable documents (below) as prompts.   

Feel free to give these “gifts” to your students.   

We cannot remove the chaos of transitional times, but we can offer our students a firm place to plant their feet.  

We can remind them of a constant God for every dynamic time.

Be encouraged today!

PS I’m no longer praying to my faulty abstracts of God. Thanks to all of the beautiful I AM statements in John’s gospel, I have new, rich, and right images of him.   

PPS How do you help students grow in their understanding of God’s character and their identity in him? What practical resources do you use? 


What Your Seniors Need to Hear Before They Leave

Last week I had the honor of speaking via live video to two different groups of seniors — one in Alabama, one in Arkansas. They were wonderful groups of students, eager to launch into life after college, and they asked great questions at the end!

As I prepared to be with both groups, there was so much I wanted to say to encourage them. I often feel the tension of wanting to “bring the real” (transitions are hard!) while also leaving students with deep hope (God is good, and He has so much good in store!). 

My guess is you too are sharing parting words with your seniors (or will be in the coming days), and you may feel this tension. If you’re managing this tension right now or not sure what to say, here are some thoughts (from the archives) on what our students need to hear before they leave.

I’d love know, what’s one thing you make sure to share with students before they graduate?

Live Training Course!

If you viewed the last video post, then you know I have something super exciting I want to share with you! 

It’s a special, limited-time opportunity that I can’t wait to tell you about: a Live Training Course for practitioners (student affairs professionals, college ministers, and church leaders) who want to equip students to thrive after college.

Are you ready to take your efforts to the next level? I can get you there! Check the video below act quickly. There are only a limited number of seats and best time to lock-in is before 11:59pm ET this Friday, 4/19. 

For more details and to grab your seat, CLICK HERE.

PS One more thing — I’m including a special BONUS this week for those who register by this Friday night at 11:59 PM ET: a FREE Free One-on-One Coaching Session. This is a 50 minute session to discuss your unique context, strategize about next steps, and maximize all you’re learning in the The Live Training Course!

Secure your seat by the end of day on Friday for maximum savings on the course and this free BONUS! 

What are the most important topics to cover with graduating seniors?

If you’re looking to help students prepare for life after college, you may be wondering, are we covering the most important topics? Check out this short video that explains another free PDF you don’t want to miss!

Also, more exciting things coming…keep your eyes on your inbox! If you don’t already subscribe to updates, and you don’t want to miss out, make sure you sign-up today. Can’t wait to share soon about what’s coming!

For your free PDF of the Roadmap of Topics, click here.

To order copies of After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith (InterVarsity Press), click here.

  • What’s your favorite topic to cover with students before they graduate?
  • What topic do you need more help developing?

Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

PS Stay tuned for more exciting things coming your way! If you’ve enjoyed these short videos/PDF giveaways, I encourage you to check out the free teaching series I gave away earlier this semester if you haven’t yet. This is a great time for a binge watch! Here’s the series: