Jayson is one of the friendliest educators I have met and he is always open to talking with students about their struggles. He dedicates a portion of his class to reminding students he is available if anyone needs to reach out. Also, he provides a positive lesson at the end of each class to remind students to do something healthy or an activity that will benefit our mental health.
Killoran is very thoughtful and considerate of his student's mental health and well-being. He goes out of his way to send out weekly emails detailing our assignments and course content, and is always sure to include a thoughtful message at the end reassuring us and reminding us to take care of ourselves. This means a lot to me as a student, to see that he cares about my well-being and takes the time to address mental health in a class environment. Additionally, he is always more than willing to take time out of his day to help us with our course content and understanding.
Mental health is often overlooked in relation to our physical health, but it is an equally vital part of our overall wellbeing. It can be very difficult to recognize when our mental health is in decline, which is why a crucial part of mental health is having a network of supportive friends, family, and trusted acquaintances. Therefore, mental health to me means that we feel supported, loved, and respected, and that we can access a caring resource whenever we need. Mental health is not necessarily an absence of mental illness - I believe a more important measure of mental health is the feeling that we are worthy of love and respect, and the knowledge that each and every one of us has value in this world. This means that our worth extends beyond the self, and connects with a higher purpose. Finally, in my experience I have found that mental health is not a given state of wellness, but instead a ongoing process of actions and thoughts that reinforces our worth. This requires daily, conscious appreciation of our mind and body in a manner that is personal to each and every one of us. It is important to learn what process works best for you, and nurture your mental health with the same intention and devotion with which you care for your physical health.
I try to support mental health as an educator by affirming to my students that they can trust that I care for each and every one of them. The most important thing I can do as an instructor is make my students feel safe. On the first day of class, and in every subsequent class, I talk about the importance of reaching out if a student ever needs someone to talk to, someone to listen, or even just a smile. I ensure students know they can talk to me or email me if they ever need to. And if they don't necessarily feel comfortable opening up to me, I provide other university and provincial resources they can access if they wish. With a difficult period of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, I make it a priority to tell my students the most meaningful activity they can do is take care of themselves and to look out for one another. The world is a much better place if we are all looking out for each other. Finally, I send out weekly emails with recaps of our class content, and offer little tips for students to take care of themselves, such as going for a walk, singing their favourite song, dancing, and even just be aware of your breathing. I find small reminders about healthy activities can really make a difference.
I believe educators and staff have a responsibility to encourage wellbeing for students, and for one another. We are all human beings, and we all have better days than others. Students especially are often under significant pressure in their academic and personal lives, which can take a heavy toll. The great part of supporting student mental health is that it can take so many different forms. It can be a smile, a wave, a friendly "Hello" or "How are you?", or a warm compliment. It can also involve sitting down with a student if they seem to need help, or simply recognizing when they aren't acting like their usual selves. This is often a sign that something is different, and it might be a good idea to check in with them. They might not always open up, but even just asking can go a long way in helping students feel appreciated and seen.
Small gestures of kindness, care, and support don't take very long. A smile, wave, or saying a warm "Hello" takes a matter of seconds, but these very acts can save a life. One of the biggest threats to mental health is isolation - the feeling that one is alone and that nobody acknowledges them. Neglecting to acknowledge someone's existence can be catastrophic to their mental wellbeing. The short amount of time invested into another person's mental health can make a world of difference. And by helping someone, it's amazing how our own mental health improves as well. If we all take a few moments each day to prioritize the wellbeing of another person, we might just save their life, and we might just save our own.
--- Jayson Killoran