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Increasing calls to ensure mental health of staff at US universities

Increasing calls have been made to ensure the mental health of staff in higher education in the United States, following the recent suicides of two senior professors.

Educational experts have stated that US universities may be setting aside care for the mental health of their staff, even though there has been an increase in attention directed towards students.

This comes after suicides earlier this year of Alan Krueger, James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University and a White House economic advisor, and Vikram Jandhyala, Vice Provost for Innovation at the University of Washington.

A professor of social and behavioural science at Temple University, Mark Salzer, commented: “There’s all sorts of talk on college campuses about the increasing suicides among students. We are not talking about the same thing for faculty and for staff.”

Several academics have agreed with this, including Amber O’Shea, who is an assistant professor of education at Pennsylvania State University.

Salzer and O’Shea are two researchers who, along with a handful of others, are currently focussing on the mental health of academic staff. They found that there is a lack of understanding in options available to faculty staff during periods of illness.

There is a lack of understanding in options available to faculty staff during periods of illness

Although federal laws now require employers to offer job accommodations, and universities often offer mental health services, a 2017 survey – conducted by Professor Salzer and Dr O’Shea – found nearly 70% had limited familiarity with such facilities.

Scholars who participated said they lacked support from supervisors or colleagues. Many said they found support through family and friends.

“I know that there are some faculty out there who like to talk about the stresses of the job – it’s very lonely and isolating, and getting tenure is stressful,” Professor Salzer stated.

He added: “But I think that’s an entitled perspective to have. Really, suicide rates are higher among poorer people – people who are dealing with severe [financial difficulties].”

He believes this includes lower-ranking members of the teaching association, whose stories rarely attract headlines.

“We don’t hear the stories about the adjunct faculty member teaching eight courses in four or five different places,” he said. “I’m going to worry about everybody, but those are the people who are really at risk.”

If you have been affected by the issues addressed in this article, helplines such as the Samaritans hotline (116123) and Warwick’s Wellbeing Support Services (024 7657 5570) are available. International helplines can also be found at www.befrienders.org.

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