The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Mental Health Month Focus: Higher Ed Campus Culture

May is Mental Health Month, and we’re homing in on three facets of higher education that impact mental health: campus culture, resources and work flexibility. This blog post is Part I of the three-part series. First, we’ll discuss the importance of creating campus cultures that prioritize and promote the mental health of students, faculty and staff, and provide some examples and resources HR practitioners can adapt to their institutions.

Building a culture of acceptance, acknowledgement and care is the foundational step of integrating mental health initiatives into campus culture. Institutions must actively work to denounce the prevalent stigma surrounding mental health conversations. Not only must employees feel safe and welcome to share their concerns, stories and experiences, they must be actively encouraged to do so. Seeing other employees, especially supervisors and top management, embracing these efforts is key.

Corporate Examples

The corporate world is a great place to turn to for successful mental health initiatives that can be adapted to higher ed. Consider EY’s (formerly known as Ernst & Young) “R U Ok?” campaign, which raised awareness not only of signs and symptoms of distress, but of ways to show care to other employees and help them find the resources they need. EY provided manager and supervisor training to ensure that everyone knew when and how to ask “r u ok” to support each other and demonstrate this culture of care.

Another corporate example is the Barclays “This Is Me” campaign, which challenged mental illness stereotypes and stigmas by highlighting individual experiences and stories — showing that mental illness can affect people, but it doesn’t define them. These uniquely human portraits celebrate the diversity of Barclays employees and show that Barclays cares about the whole person and how it can support them.

What Can HR Do?

HR can set the example and help lead the mental health conversation by asking questions that prompt honest reflection:

  • Does my campus community feel like a safe place to talk about mental health?
  • Does my campus community know how to talk about mental health and mental illness? Not just from a legal standpoint, but also the buzzwords?
  • Do supervisors and managers have the training they need to notice signs of distress?
  • Do supervisors and employees know what institutional benefits and resources for mental health are available to them? Do they know how to access these?
  • Are the resources we provide thoughtful and intentional in their support, or do they fall short in meeting the needs of the campus community?

Responses to these questions can help HR determine areas for growth and provide a starting point to move talk to action.

In Part II of the mental health blog post series, we’ll dive into mental health resources higher ed can tap into, including apps, telehealth, benefits coverage for mental health visits and care, and more.

Related resources: 

CUPA-HR’s Mental Health Toolkit (a members-only resource) highlights key resources and example policies and programs specific to higher education.