Division of Student Affairs

UNCG’s Culture of Care: Guidance for Faculty & Staff to Support Student Mental Health and Well-being

Students walking on College Avenue with fall foliage in the background

Faculty and staff play an instrumental role in supporting students as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic of racism and the nation’s current culture wars, while also working to pursue their academic goals. Below are resources to help staff and faculty members identify what students may be experiencing, ways to support students, and ways to engage in self-care along the way. It takes all of us to create a Culture of Care.


Caring for Our Students (AND Ourselves)


What are students experiencing right now?

UNCG students are persistent, resilient, and determined as they face many new challenges. As staff and faculty, we can support and enhance that resilience with a good understanding of what students are facing and how these challenges can impact learning. Difficulties with attention and motivation are common with stress, anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, and financial stress.  Difficulties with sleep are also common. At times, students who are grieving may be overcome with emotion.  Others may have periods of panic that will interrupt learning.  Some students are trying to learn  while dealing with hunger.  Trauma can affect thinking and learning through an overactivation of fear and vigilance and a reduced capacity to regulate emotion and to objectively sort through information.  This is a set of complex emotional demands that our community must keep in mind as students pursue their education. 

During the pandemic, UNCG students, like the rest of the world, are coping with tremendous uncertainty. Their capacity to plan for their futures, for internships, jobs, and other opportunities have all been impacted. Many students are already managing anxiety or depression, and now have to negotiate this as well. This anxiety and uncertainty may impact a student’s capacity to perform as well as they otherwise would, both in and out of the classroom. It can create problems with concentration, panic, sleep, and motivation. Resources below may help you as you encounter students feeling anxious and uncertain. You can also refer students to resources at:
According to the Health Minds study, 21% of college students nationally had elevated levels of depression, and at UNCG 41% of surveyed students reported elevated levels of depression. The isolation, stress and financial concerns arising from the pandemic have only exacerbated these concerns. Students suffering from depression are more likely to stop attending class, to submit late work, and to underperform.
UNCG families and students have suffered with the economic impact of the pandemic. While some have been unable to return, others have returned but may lack necessary income for food, rent, utilities, as well as academic supplies. Lacking resources can create profound anxiety and means that students are juggling academics, jobs or looking for jobs, and finding ways to meet basic needs. Some resources that students can access are:
While the epidemic of racism, racial trauma and racial violence has persisted for more than 400 years, the most recent spate of racist killings, many caught on camera, have intensified racial trauma for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). Many of our students are impacted by recent events and racial trauma which can profoundly affect mental health, wellbeing, and academic performance. Symptoms associated with racial trauma include anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, recurrent images of witnessed violence, lack of hope for the future as well as stress-related physical symptoms. As a community, we strive to deepen our understanding of ways that we positively or negatively impact our students, and to take action to ensure that our community is a safe and anti-racist space.
Students are experiencing a range of losses in this time. Many have lost family and/or friends to COVID-19 and have had to navigate ways to memorialize and say goodbye. Others have had their own health affected. Students are also grieving life as it was before the pandemic, the plans they had, the internships or performances that were cancelled, the day to day social life with their friends on campus that, even as they return, cannot be the same. Resources below can help understand the unique challenges of grieving during this time.
Though many students have returned to campus and will engage in on site classroom learning, the majority of students will have a virtual learning component this Fall. Many students struggled to adjust to online learning in the early stages of the pandemic and some of these difficulties may persist. Resources to support students (and faculty) in virtual learning have been developed by UNCG and others.

Recognizing & Supporting Students in Distress

Faculty and staff are often the front line for students experiencing crisis or distress.  Students not only interact with them on a regular basis, but often look up to faculty and staff as mentors and as part of their support system.  Faculty and staff are often adept at recognizing students who are suffering and can be critical to their well-being.

Some common signs of students in distress are:
  • Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
  • Increased listlessness and disengagement
  • Extreme mood changes or excessive, inappropriate display of emotions
  • Social isolation or declining engagement with class, instructors, or peers
  • Repeated absences
  • Repeated requests for extensions
  • Not responding to outreach
  • What they say to you: ”I’ve been really stressed,” “I have been feeling overwhelmed.”
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene
  • Disclosure of family problems, financial difficulties, depression, grief, suicidal thoughts or self-injury
  • Excessive fatigue or sleep disturbance
  • Sharing bizarre, disorganized or garbled/disjointed thoughts
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Making implied or direct threats to harm self or others
  • Use of alcohol or other substances in the learning environment
UNCG Cares: Recognize and Assist Students in Distress
Empathize, Normalize, Validate Students will approach faculty and staff that they admire, relate to, and consider mentors. Your response to them can be enormously beneficial.
  • Empathize: Express your understanding of their concerns. Sometimes this is just by quietly but attentively listening. At other times, you may find it appropriate and natural to share your own experiences with difficult times or with seeking help. No matter what you say, genuine concern and understanding is healing.
  • Normalize: We are all going through a shared set of crises and challenges. Let students know it is entirely normal to be overwhelmed, stressed, sad, anxious, or whatever else they may be experiencing. Often students will compare themselves to others and carry the idea that they are inferior if they are not coping as well as their peers appear to be. Reminding them that others’ outside appearances do not necessarily represent their inside world can be useful.
  • Validate: Students will often minimize or dismiss their challenges or feelings. When they choose to share them with you, they will be impacted when you validate their experiences and emotions as important, their challenges as difficult, and their ability to cope as resilient.
The Active Minds mental health advocacy organization has an active listening model they offer for faculty and students called V-A-R for VALIDATE, APPRECIATE, REFER. This links to information on this model.
  • Consult! You are not alone! The UNCG Counseling Center and The Dean of Students are resources to help students and to help you help students. (Counseling Center: 336-334-5874; Dean of Students: 336-334-5514)
  • Crisis? Call UNCG PD if you have an urgent concern for your safety or the safety of a student. 336-334-4444 or 911.
If you feel a student is exhibiting concerning behavior, i.e. behavior that potentially interferes with their own or other students’ ability to function well in the learning environment, you can report this to the Dean of Students Office and the UNCG PD by completing a Concerning Behavior Report. This does not function as an emergency response. If you have an urgent concern for your own safety or the safety of someone else, contact the UNCG PD: 336-334-4444 or 911.

How Can I Promote Mental Health & Create a Culture of Care?

BASE Camp participants group in a huddle during their ropes course activities

A recent survey from Active Minds, a mental health advocacy organization for young people, asked about the impact of the pandemic on college students.  Eighty percent of college students indicated that their mental health was negatively impacted by the pandemic.  A summary of results is here.

Students were asked what they thought were the most important things for educational leaders to be thinking about during (and after) the pandemic in order to support them. Included in the top responses were:

Increased academic support: Leniency, accommodations, and flexibility

Focus on soft skills: Empathy, compassion, communication, understanding, and validation for the burdens students are experiencing.

More mental health resources: Increased investment in counseling and coping resources.

UNCG administration, faculty and staff have already been responding to these needs with empathy and creativity.  Some additional resources and ideas specific to these areas are below.

Faculty are in a unique and challenging position as they balance the mission of teaching and learning with an understanding of how extraordinary stresses are affecting students in the classroom. UNCG biology professor Dr. Bruce Kirchoff is offering a set number of assignment “opt-outs” or mental health passes. This would allow students in distress to opt-out of an assignment without penalty. A sample syllabus statement about this type of policy that was developed by Dr. Kirchoff is here.
Consider highlighting the mental health and wellbeing statement in your syllabus to normalize mental health concerns, to identify existing resources and to encourage students to seek help.: Health and well-being impact learning and academic success. Throughout your time in the university, you may experience a range of concerns that can cause barriers to your academic success. These might include illnesses, strained relationships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol or drug problems, feeling down, or loss of motivation. Student Health Services and The Counseling Center can help with these or other issues you may experience. You can learn about the free, confidential mental health services available on campus by calling 336-334-5874, visiting the website at https://shs.uncg.edu/ or visiting the Anna M. Gove Student Health Center at 107 Gray Drive. For undergraduate or graduate students in recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction, The Spartan Recovery Program (SRP) offers recovery support services. You can learn more about recovery and recovery support services by visiting https://shs.uncg.edu/srp or reaching out to recovery@uncg.edu.
  • Starting class with a brief well-being practice, such as a brief mindfulness video or recording sends the message that mental well-being matters AND that it can be part of the learning experience. In fact, starting a class with a focusing practice such as mindfulness could improve learning. Here is a link to a 30 second guided breathing exercise and a two minute guided breathing exercise.
  • This list has several other ideas that could be used before, during or at the end of class.
  • Other practices that signal that you are part of a culture of care would be to say something in your first class about the resources for health and well-being on campus, or to put something in your email signature that indicates your support for mental health such as a quote or even just “Mental Health Matters.”
Several departments across the university offer training that will help you to support our students. These trainings include topics related to mental health, well-being, diversity and inclusivity:
In this period of increased awareness of racist violence and racial trauma, students of color are undoubtedly experiencing more stress, anxiety, depression and grief. Students of color are often systemically positioned to have higher incidence of chronic illness and inadequate health care leading to greater risk during the pandemic. They may be positioned to experience greater financial stress, which has become heightened during the pandemic. These factors can impact a student’s learning and their need for flexibility or leniency.  Most people have uneven knowledge about various racial, ethnic, gender or national identities. Take advantage of the many resources available to gain more understanding of concerns or identities that you may be less familiar with.
  • UNCG recently launched a Racial Equity at UNCG website to serve “...as a launching pad for Spartans, community members, and prospective students and families to learn more about our commitment to racial equity.” It includes resources, events, and updates.
  • Renowned anti-racist author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi has curated an anti-racist reading list.
  • UNCG Libraries has developed a page devoted to African-American authors, anti-racism texts, and additional resources related to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
  • Check out this link that features TED talks to enhance the understanding of racism in America.
  • Follow the Office of Intercultural Engagement as well for events, resources, student initiatives, and trainings related to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, privilege, and oppression.
  • Take advantage of the UNCG developed Gender Diversity Toolkit.

Taking Care of Yourself

Professor Dr. Gargeya teaching a class at the Bryan School.

It is essential that you stay attuned to your own well-being and needs as you support our students.  You are in the same storm of uncertainty, fear, disruption and grief that they are.  These resources may help you pay attention to and improve your own well-being as you navigate teaching, mentoring, and supporting our students.

Take five slow, deep breaths right now and feel yourself calm down. Additional breathing exercises can be found here.
Worrying will not change or help the situation; try meditation or guided imagery. Other stress management and relaxation techniques can be found here.
Simple Mindfulness Practices to Help You Through Difficult Times
Remember, how you think affects how you feel and how you behave. If you are having a negative thought (e.g., “I might get the COVID-19 virus and get really sick.”), notice that this represents a narrative or cognitive distortion. Revise your thought to be more neutral (“I have no data that I will get the virus”) or positive (“I am taking all the steps I can to stay healthy”). Redirect the negative thoughts as they occur.
Physical activity can help relieve stress. Even short walks can help. Take your phone and use a ten minute walk to check in with friends or family.
Have one or two things a day that are routine and that are in your control. This may be a walk you take, cooking a meal, spending a specific time with your partner, your kids or your pets, taking a bath, etc. These activities can be anchoring in times of so much change and uncertainty. And, of course, follow CDC guidelines on ways to reduce risk of contracting COVID-19.
Tell a family member or friend how you are feeling. Contact the UNCG Employee Assistance Program ComPsych if fears, anxiety, sadness or grief begin to interfere with your functioning.