Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 29-37
In addressing mental health needs in honors communities, I first need to explain that I am not a mental health practitioner; I am a sociologist. The types of issues that interest me are structural: what can we do to set up supportive environments that help all our students. We need to respond appropriately to individuals, but we also need also to look at the larger system (Bertram et al.; JED Foundation, “A Guide”; Atkins & Frazier). For honors educators, the challenges that students face in their daily lives are an ongoing concern. We are all aware of the rising rates of undergraduate mental health issues (Locke et al.; Cook; Ross et al.; Towbes & Cohen). Our students regularly articulate “fears and anxieties and doubts about their abilities” (Tough) and tell us about barriers that impede their progress, but careful listening reveals concerns that range beyond individual performance anxieties. Students also address a “widespread presence of intrapersonal difficulties, social isolation, and stress” (Mitchell et al. 23). We need, therefore, to look beyond those students we perceive to be at risk and address the larger campus context (Kelleher).
Our regular efforts to respond to students in crisis may include connecting students to campus health care services, exploring disability service options, and reaching out for help (if appropriate) to residential life services, academic advisors, and individual faculty (Novotney). We also sometimes contact families. Although we are limited, sometimes severely so, by inadequate institutional resources, we are uniquely situated in honors to expand our view beyond the individual to the larger social environment in which our students interact. Honors educators use multiple resources during any given day and have thus become adept at seeing how our programs fit into both our campus communities and the larger national discourse on both honors and, more generally, higher education.