Making the Most of May

As Higher Ed professionals, when we think of May many of us instantly think of May 1, the deadline for enrollment for many of our campuses, also known as National College Decision Day. Others may consider Commencement ceremonies and wrapping up the academic year. Undergraduate students and families, they may have their minds fixed on final exams and summer travel. But did you know that May is also Mental Health Awareness Month? Now, I feel confident that there are no real ties between the two, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t serendipitous; because whether the decision is where to go to college or which first professional contract to sign, landmark decisions and major events come with major stress. Now, typically, I am not one to couple activities of importance. I’m more of a one-major-event-at-a-time type of person, but if ever there was an opportunity to capitalize and double-down on activities that could benefit one another, May might just be the month for it.

For this reason, I have pulled together some tips and ideas for programming and promoting Mental Health Awareness month that will help you make the most of May for parents, families, students, and even for your staff.

  • Most student organizations, campus health centers and student wellness programs will schedule stress-buster activities and mental health breaks in April and May to provide a necessary outlet for students. Giving them permission to step away from the increased anxieties of tests and final papers. Take time to promote these activities to your parents and families to ensure they, too, are communicating the same when supporting their students during these stressful times.
  • Partner with colleagues in the Counseling Center, Prevention Services, and/or Campus Health programs to host a Facebook Live or webinar event that informs parents and families of the services and resources available on campus and reminds them how their student(s) can access them. It is equally important to consider offering this to newly enrolled parents and families as well. Incoming parents and families have a heightened awareness and concern for their student’s mental health and well-being. Providing this information early will serve as an introduction to the conversation and the resources for the year ahead while also helping to set them at ease as they begin their transition.
  • Work with the appropriate communications team on your campus to develop a welcome message that will invite new parents and families into the conversation. One that not only welcomes them again to the university but also promotes the importance and value of mental health and well-being on your campus.
  • Whether you are virtual or in-person, creating drop-in spaces for families help to connect them with each other and with high impact practice programs and experts on your campus.
  • Invite parents and families to pen letters of support (this could be at a designated event or even via a google form) and then distribute them to students during finals week. At NC State, we actually do this during Parents and Families Weekend, but you could promote this opportunity at any time throughout the year. 
  • Go one step further, and have them make a quick good-luck video and instead email it to the student during finals. 
  • Oftentimes, students are seeking quiet spaces where they can escape to without distractions to study or finish tasks or just have some uninterrupted time to themselves. If you have an unoccupied space that could provide this area for students, consider offering it to your student staff or promote it on your parent and family channels. This is one seemingly small act of kindness that may not seem like much but like most, it will have a huge impact! Bonus points if you are able to provide snacks, Generation Z loves some circa 1990s snacks so bring on the fruit rolls ups and Dunkaroos! 
  • Develop a social media campaign that gives parents a platform to make a special video message for their student and then post it to your stories to create a highlight reel that celebrates student success. You could offer this for all families during finals or target a special audience such as parents of graduating seniors and post messages the week of Commencement. Bonus, you could do both! Social shout-outs are a great way to engage families positively on your social sites and give them a platform to celebrate their students.

Considerations for nurturing the mental health and well-being of staff and incorporating National Mental Health Awareness efforts on your teams

  • Create a Kudos Board in your office and leave acknowledgements that are uplifting and appreciative for your team and encourage them to do it for one another (students, too!)
  • Designate a daily self-care hour.
  • Send a weekly wellness message (I.e. Motivational Monday or Wellness Wednesday) to promote quick tips for self-care strategies to strengthen mental health wellness and well-being. 
  • Offer flex-work schedules (only if available as an option-be sure to check with your HR rep).
  • Encourage employees to take advantage of HR Wellness Benefit programs; many of which may offer increased programming during the month of May.

Food for thought: If you are fortunate enough to have remaining funds that need to be used before the end of the fiscal year, May would be an excellent time to do so. Staff lunches, exam kits for your student leaders, wellness workshops, off-site team-building activities or even purchasing the Calm app are all wonderful ways to support your employees.

Of course, these are only some highlighted ideas, this list could (and should) go on. And I invite you to share your thoughts with us in the Online Community. 

In the end, regardless of the activity, the biggest takeaway is that Mental Health is a priority for the individual and for our campus community. Be it on our teams, in our classrooms and of course, for the parents and families of our students. I hope you will make the time to engage students, parents and families in Mental Health Awareness Month during this month and furthermore, I also hope you take a moment to take care of you, too, along the way.

Be well, friends.

-Kerri Fowler

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