I am a research student in Dr. Stewart's lab. He always ensures he creates a safe place to allow you to talk about your mental health and well-being. He makes it known to his students that he is always available to provide support and is extremely accommodating. I reached out to him when I was in a dark place despite not knowing him very well but the few encounters I did have with him made me feel like he was someone I could trust. Through these past years, he's always made himself available to talk/listen despite his busy schedule. He makes it apparent that the wellness of his students is a priority and I really don't know if I would be the person I am today without his support.
I think mental health is a cornerstone of our well-being. Despite this, many of us do not or cannot give our mental health the attention it deserves. For those who cannot, the barriers are often contextual and driven by systems that do not appropriately address inequity. I want to live in a community that not only promotes mental health by making relevant information and services available, but where people also work consistently to create an environment where more people can attend to their mental health.
I think we have a long way to go. Too often, the time and resources necessary to bolster mental health are treated like luxuries, rather than basic human rights.
I think that, as educators, we have the bandwidth to be flexible with how we organize course design and assessment. I think we can use that flexibility to be as responsive as possible to student circumstances, while maintaining fairness. Experiencing symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders, struggling with substance use issues, managing impulsive behaviours, having thoughts of suicide - all of these are things that become more common in young adulthood (relative to childhood) and they are examples of what many students in our classes are dealing with while also focusing on their education. When we're made aware that a student is faced with a challenging period or with mental health symptoms, I believe we should make our best effort to adjust the aspects of the course we can so that our students can put forth their best effort.
I also think that, as instructors, we can consider the impacts our course content can have on student well-being. Many topics in my field (Clinical Psychology) can be deeply personal for students, and can bring on memories or strong emotions in some cases. Creating a transparent learning environment (e.g., detail about topics that will be discussed in advance of lessons) and encouraging students' decision-making around how they will interact with the content are approaches that I use and that I think help promote safe and supportive class environments.
I am immensely grateful to work with undergraduate and graduate student members of my research team. I have learned so much from them. Over the years, many have been forthcoming about aspects of their lived experiences with mental health; this input has left indelible impacts on how the lab designs and conducts its research studies, and how we mentor junior psychological scientists.
--- Dr. Jeremy Stewart