Appendix B
Episode 016 -

Prioritizing Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher Ed

Appendix B Episode 16, text is present that reads, "Prioritizing Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher Ed"

Kristin and Carl explore the differences between mental wellbeing and mental health, and chat about the importance of prioritizing self-care.
Institutional leaders have a responsibility to promote mental wellbeing programs and to make them more accessible to employees.
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Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, Prioritizing Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher Ed. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn, and me for some reason, because Joel must not be available. So Kristin, it’s commencement season and a lot of MarComm folks are getting ready for a lot of students to be away from the campus, and hopefully they’re getting ready to calm down a little bit.

I’m sure it’s been a stressful, enrollment cycle for them. So can we talk a little bit about today some of the things that they can do to focus on their own mental wellbeing and hopefully, make things easier for them over time?

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah absolutely, you know, a few weeks ago I wrote a Higher Ed Hot Take about how communication professionals can contribute to student wellness and mental wellbeing. And I think we could expand that out a little bit for what that means for administrators and faculty. And I think one of the things that we don’t talk about often enough is, the difference between mental health and mental wellness.

Carl Gratiot: Yeah. I personally think I would have trouble defining those separately off the top of my head. So can you tell me more about what those differences are?

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. I think the big difference is that mental wellbeing kind of looks at a spectrum from, languishing to flourishing and it incorporates a lot of different things, like are you feeling on the negative side, loneliness or, disconnection or, disengagement from your work, disconnect, disengagement from your friends and family versus on the positive side, feeling happy and full of life, satisfaction or motivation or inspiration, and then when you look at mental health, it’s more about whether or not there’s the presence of mental illness.

And if there’s something, you know, physically or emotionally diagnosable that, would take a different treatment protocol. So it’s usually ranked on a scale from high to low, so low instance of mental illness or high instance.

Carl Gratiot: Based on my own experience, and I think you would say the same, being a MarComm professional at a small college, when are you supposed to find time to work on those things?

Because it’s always like, go, go, go. And if you’re on a team that was small, like mine was, there’s not a lot of time to focus on yourself, and I remember being so nervous about talking to my therapist that I ran up and found a random conference room that I knew no one was gonna be in because I didn’t think I could do it for my office.

And that’s not okay. That shouldn’t be the thing that we’re worried about. So what can folks like that do in order to prioritize their own mental health and wellbeing?

Kristin Van Dorn: Well, I think for one, our wellness programs need a little bit of a facelift. I think we need to start thinking about wellness as being more, multi-dimensional.

And another piece of it is, I think, normalizing that mental health is, that people are on a spectrum of mental health throughout their life and that their mental health changes and that it’s okay to experience disruptions or experience new states of mental health and mental illness, and, that, if we normalize it for people, maybe no one has to run and seek out a conference room because they’re nervous about other people overhearing them, talk to their therapist.

I mean, we don’t want details necessarily, like that would be a lot, but, just like, just to feel that sense of privacy and to feel like that can be incorporated into part of your day as an aspect of taking care of yourself. I think that’s really important.

Carl Gratiot: Yeah, I mean, I think if I revealed the secrets in that meeting, that’d be better for a different podcast.

But, I think too, it’s, it’s kind of on the institutions to provide, I mean, this is another topic that we’re not gonna cover in this show, but it’s on them to provide the sort of health coverage that would make it affordable to, you know, have regular therapy sessions included in part of the plan, because I remember before I got in my spouse’s insurance, I couldn’t really even afford the co-pay.

So that’s an issue as well.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. I mean, it can be really expensive to take care of yourself in important ways, and that is just a really tough mountain to climb for a lot of Higher Ed administrators who are facing issues with either their, benefits package or just ongoing life stuff where, carving away some extra opportunity to talk with a therapist or seek the kinds of rejuvenation and renewal isn’t really possible.

Carl Gratiot: And also speaking as myself, who is a person from the Midwest where people keep all of their emotions bottled inside until they explode at the wrong time. What, what sorts of things can institutions or leaders at these institutions do to make this sort of mental wellbeing and activities around it more accessible to everybody?

Kristin Van Dorn: Well I think, you know, our mental wellness programs, again, don’t always address the issue of mental health. And I think if we infused more mental health into our mental wellness programs and saw these two interrelated ideas as not synonyms but adjacent concepts, it would really help in order to shepherd in more of the mental health information that people need.

That understanding when someone needs support may be an accommodation because they’re experiencing, a mental health circumstance is as important as building in time for wellbeing, like mindfulness practices or, maybe getting out to the campus quad to do a session of yoga, these are things that are mental wellness providers tend to emphasize, which is that sort of, are you on that spectrum between languishing and flourishing? How are you doing? But we also need to think about like, what are our interactions with our coworkers that do have mental health needs, sometimes those can be tense and they can be hard to understand.

I think it’s really important to equip staff members with the right tools in order to protect people that are vulnerable and support people that are in a state of a mental health transition.

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So Kristin, so what should we as Higher Ed marketing professionals or just web professionals do in order to make these sorts of programs or initiatives that happen internally more widely known?

Because I think a lot of folks might be trying to get a job at a university or a college, or even for students, they might not be aware that these programs exist.

I think students probably are more aware of just because of all the information in the departments of student life and things that exist, the resources, but it’s not always clear for employees, especially staff and faculty, that these things are available to them. So what should we as practitioners do in order to make these, more visible?

Kristin Van Dorn: I think as part of teams that manage a lot of internal communications, we can really do a lot to promote the services that are available. Additionally, I think we can do a lot to promote what we can do as professionals in an environment where we’re taking care of our coworkers that go through episodes of mental health transition, I think that being available in knowing the right things to say or the things that you might wanna avoid saying, or the judgements and the issues that come up from interactions that are unexpected or don’t go according to plan.

I think having a tool set for, other administrators so that we can be kind and compassionate to one another and hold up each other’s dignity is really essential to not only the thriving and flourishing of people that do suffer from mental health setbacks, but also for our whole community in general to feel supported.

And I think that goes back to wellbeing. That’s why these two ideas are so interconnected,

Carl Gratiot: And I would imagine that it’s gonna be difficult at certain times of the year, to prioritize mental health and wellbeing because of just the nature of the higher ed enrollment cycle during the fall. There’s a, especially if you’re on admissions team or something like that, or even the marketing communications team, there’s a lot of things that need to happen.

There’s a lot of events, there’s a lot of visiting high schools, there’s a lot of things happening on campus. So, it can get busy and you can’t prioritize yourself in this way. So I think then it becomes, the onus is on the, the leadership, the, even the, at the director level, because, you know, the C-Suite might not know even know who some of these folks are, so it’s really gotta be the managers and the directors that prioritize this.

Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah, and I think another thing is that if you do have a downtime over the summer where it’s not quite as fierce and fast as your normal workflow is, you can start to look at ways of making your communications more trauma informed based and give consideration to how you might plan for an environment that is both accessible and is supportive of people that find themselves on either the mental health spectrum or on just needing some more support and mental wellbeing.

Carl Gratiot: And hopefully if that happens, we can, well maybe not have the door open, but we can all feel comfortable talking to our therapists in our own offices.

Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B.

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