Supporting student mental health in the college classroom

By Tasha Galardi, OSU College of Health

The teaching landscape has changed in a variety of ways since the start of the COVID pandemic, and one thing many of us are noticing is an increase in the mental health issues that our students are experiencing. The majority of college students today meet the criteria for at least one mental-health problem. Results from the latest  Healthy Minds survey (2022), which received responses from 96,000 U.S. students across 133 campuses during the 2021–22 academic year, found that 44 percent reported symptoms of depression, 37 percent said they experienced anxiety and 15 percent said they have seriously considered suicide. While the rates of mental-health problems are roughly the same among students of all races, students of color are less likely to receive treatment (Lipson et al., 2022). Many students feel that faculty should be at least moderately involved in helping students who struggle with their mental health, in part because most college counseling centers are overwhelmed and have long waiting lists (Cohen et al., 2022).

Instructors play a critical role in supporting student mental health, by sharing resources and incorporating strategies that support student well-being. Mental health challenges negatively impact student performance and classroom dynamics, so efforts to support student mental health not only benefit students in need but also improve the classroom experience for the instructor and other students. There are a variety of practices that instructors can employ to support student mental health, even if they do not know whether any specific students in their class are experiencing issues.

Best Practices for Supporting Student Health and Well-Being:

  • Craft a syllabus that communicates a commitment to student mental health. This could include a “wellness statement” that encourages students to take care of themselves and seek help when they need it, and sharing information about Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
    • It is important to note that while some students have Disability Access Services (DAS) accommodations, many do not.
  • Encourage students to reach out to you if they need additional support. Let them know whether you will offer flexibility with due dates, attendance, etc., if they are dealing with personal issues.
    • Rather than accommodating individual requests for flexibility, it might be easier to build flexibility into your course design. For example, you can drop several of the lowest participation scores to allow students to miss a few classes without penalty or offer every student a one-time late submission pass for homework assignments.
    • Provide opportunities for students to make up points, such as extra credit and/or the rewriting of an assignment.
  • Create simplicity, consistency, and clarity in your course design, and consider a regular schedule for assignment due dates. Keep everything well-organized in Canvas, and make sure links work. Clearly outline expectations, deadlines, and how assignments will be graded. Post regular reminders for upcoming due dates.
  • Space out assignments throughout the term. It is better to have more small assignments than just a few larger ones. Scaffold larger assignments by breaking the work up into smaller pieces.
  • Signal support for student mental health throughout the term through statements made in class, via announcements, etc. Openly mention upcoming discussions of potentially challenging topics and discuss major events that may impact student mental health. Describe your own self-care practices and destigmatize asking for help.
  • Monitor students for signs of mental health issues, such as missing class sessions and/or assignments, a sudden decline in performance, repeated requests for extensions, and statements indicating high levels of stress or overwhelm.
    • Instructors will most likely need to reach out to students who appear to be struggling, because students generally do not initiate these conversations.

At times, it can seem overwhelming trying to navigate the needs of our students and their requests for accommodations. It is important to remind them (and perhaps even yourself!) that you are not a trained therapist, and to practice self-care when you need to recover from the emotional labor that teaching can require. But, instructors definitely play a pivotal role in supporting students and this work can be managed with planning and intention. By designing your course in a way that supports student mental health and well-being, you will likely receive fewer requests for special accommodations. And it is rewarding to know that you are helping students be more successful in your class, which impacts their overall success at OSU.


Cohen, K. A., Graham, A. K., & Lattie, E. G. (2022). Aligning students and counseling centers on student mental health needs and treatment resources. Journal of American College Health70(3), 724-732.

Coleman, M. E. (2022). Mental health in the college classroom: Best practices for instructors. Teaching Sociology50(2), 168-182.

Eaton, R., Hunsaker, S. V., & Moon, B. (2023). Improving learning and mental health in the college classroom. West Virginia University Press.

Healthy Minds Network (2022). Healthy Minds Study among Colleges and Universities, year 2021-2022 [Data set]. Healthy Minds Network, University of Michigan, University of California Los Angeles, Boston University, and Wayne State University.

Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., Abelson, S., Heinze, J., Jirsa, M., Morigney, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2022). Trends in college student mental health and help-seeking by race/ethnicity: Findings from the national healthy minds study, 2013–2021. Journal of Affective Disorders306, 138-147.

About the Author: Tasha Galardi is a Senior Instructor in the Human Development and Family Sciences department, and primarily serves as the Human Services internship coordinator. This post was inspired by discussions at a recent CTL Fellows Program event in the College of Health that Tasha facilitated in her current role as a College of Health CTL Fellow.

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