New Survey on Role of Faculty in College Student Behavioral Health

May 5, 2020

First study of its kind will look at perceptions, awareness, and behaviors of key stakeholder group in campus behavioral health crisis

BOSTON—The Boston University School of Public Health, together with the Mary Christie Foundation and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, have launched a survey research project aimed at helping colleges and universities better understand the role of faculty in addressing student behavioral health issues.

“Now more than ever, faculty are on the front lines of recognizing and responding to student behavioral health concerns, yet little is known about their experiences responding to student needs or their understanding of what is expected of them,” said Sarah Ketchen Lipson, assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-Principal Investigator of the national Healthy Minds Study, an annual survey of undergraduate and graduate student mental health and related factors.

“There is an abundance of student-reported mental health data, but a relative dearth of data from faculty, who represent a key stakeholder group in the collective work to understand and address mental health on college and university campuses,” she said.

The survey, which will be piloted in fall 2020, will examine faculty perceptions of and experiences related to student behavioral health and will identify barriers to faculty being effective gatekeepers within the overall campus behavioral health system. The survey data will help inform efforts such as faculty training and communication that help all campus stakeholders address what is being called the campus behavioral health crisis, a phenomenon further complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from the national Healthy Minds Study collected from random samples of college students on campuses across the country reveal that (1) 44% of all students screen positive for major depression and/or generalized anxiety based on widely-used, validated mental health screening tools; (2) 75% of all students report that mental health difficulties have negatively affected their academic performance in the past month; and (3) among students with a positive screen for depression and/or anxiety, 23% report having talked with a faculty member about mental health problems that were affecting their academic performance.

“We need to understand the resources on our campuses that can address the increasing levels of anxiety and depression that college and university students are experiencing, now more than ever,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., Chair and President of the Mary Christie Foundation. This is particular important to those who deal directly with students on a day-to-day basis and can identify issues before they become crises.”

The survey, which is expected to go into the field in the fall and the findings of which will be released in early 2021, will take into account the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including distance learning and presumed higher levels of anxiety and isolation on the part of students and faculty alike.

“With or without our current circumstances, it is important to gain a much better understanding of the role of faculty in their students’ behavioral health, given the important role they often play in referring them to the help they need,” said Nick Motu, Vice President of External Affairs, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, who noted that faculty are often referral agents for students with substance use disorders.

The survey team will include data scientists from the Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analytics Center (BEDAC) at the BU School of Public Health as well as researchers at the Healthy Minds Network.  The team plans to provide the most comprehensive data to date on a variety of key variables as it relates to faculty including:

- the current state of student behavioral health and trends over time;
- their perceptions of how the campus environment affects student behavioral health;
- the challenges that exist with respect to recognizing and responding to student behavioral health needs;
- their self-efficacy and sense of responsibility for intervening around student behavioral health needs;
- their willingness to play a role in protecting and reporting student behavioral health;
- their knowledge of campus resources to refer students to for issues related to mental health and substance use;
- their motivations for further training (e.g., gatekeeper training programs); and
- their awareness of guidance provided by their institutions or through regulation.

Colleges and universities that are interested in participating in the survey should submit an Interest Form.


About the Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analytics Center (BEDAC) at the BU School of Public Health

The Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analytics Center (BEDAC) assists with questionnaire and data collection form design; implementation of study protocols; data management; data entry; and statistical, database, and web-based programming.

About the Mary Christie Foundation

The Mary Christie Foundation is a national thought leadership organization dedicated to the behavioral health and wellbeing of teens and young adults with a particular focus on students at American colleges and universities.

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. The Foundation offers prevention and recovery solutions nationwide and across the entire continuum of care for youth and adults. 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 professional; community and school-based prevention programs and services; unique family and children’s programs; an influential institute for recovery advocacy and policy.