The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday November 30th

Editorial: Professors shouldn't have to be mental health resources

<p>A sign listing numbers for the suicide hotline and CAPS is posted on a light pole outside of Murphey Hall on Oct. 11.</p>
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A sign listing numbers for the suicide hotline and CAPS is posted on a light pole outside of Murphey Hall on Oct. 11.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide.




In the wake of tragic events that occurred at UNC two weeks ago, students, faculty and staff have been struggling to understand the role they play in creating a safe environment on campus. 

With CAPS overbooked, some faculty members have put it on themselves to become mental health resources to students. This offer isn't very surprising. 

Many are aware of the mental health decline in college students. Approximately 65.3 percent of professors agree students’ mental health has declined since the beginning of their careers, according to a collaborative report from the Boston University’s School of Public Health, Mary Christie Foundation and Healthy Minds Network. In addition, 87.2 percent agree students’ mental health has declined since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, professors shouldn’t be expected to serve as mental health resources. The expectation for them to take on this role reveals more than one problem about the way UNC handles mental health.

Due to the stigmatization of mental health on college campuses, general education surrounding the issue is limited — and the average individual isn’t formally equipped to handle it. In fact, expecting non-professionals to handle the topic of mental health can do more harm than good. The spread of misinformation and poor advice can have devastating consequences.

Professors expanding their knowledge on how to handle mental health crises in students shouldn’t be an expectation, but data shows many college faculty members would like to. Around 69 percent of professors would welcome mental health training and professional development in regards to the topic of mental health, the report states. 

Mental health training for faculty, staff and students is recently being provided by UNC’s Mental Health First Aid initiative. Such training, however, still cannot and should not replace the need for coherent and quality mental health resources on campus. 

Faculty and staff aren’t somehow immune to the emotional strain that has been placed on UNC in the past few weeks. 

Loss affects every member of a community. 

The expectation for professors not to be impacted is an unrealistic and insensitive one, and aiding another’s mental health is no easy task. For example, two in 10 professors agree that helping a student's mental health has taken a toll on their own, according to the report. 

It is UNC's responsibility to care for its community. Having professors expand their job description to include something they are likely unequipped to handle is no such way to go about this.

Institutions such as Vanderbilt University have resources specifically geared toward faculty in regards to mental health. The University can follow suit and build on the resources they already offer their staff.

The high expectations placed on educators aren’t limited to a college setting. Elementary, middle and high school teachers are consistently expected to play more roles than just a teacher — all while being significantly underpaid. Since the onset of COVID-19, the roles these individuals are expected to take on have only increased in number and gravity. 

Teachers should serve as role models, educators and occasionally mentors to students — not therapists.

Instead of encouraging professors to take on the emotional labor of becoming mental health resources, UNC needs to drastically improve its underfunded and overbooked mental health services. Furthermore, the University should consider how to include professors and address their unique needs in regards to mental health. 


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