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Texting to Support the Mental Health of College Students

by Becky Fein | June 4, 2020
Texting to Support the Mental Health of College Students

Texting to Support the Mental Health of College Students

Those who work in education know that the support they give to their students goes far beyond academics. Many students reach out to familiar faces for other support as well, such as with their mental health. For instance, when students say they aren’t ready to register for classes, they may mean their home lives make it difficult to think about school.

It can be hard to find the right words to support the mental health of college students. Educators may find it useful to use the V-A-R framework outlined by Active Minds to get the conversation going - and to get students the support they need to improve their mental health.

Promoting improvement in college students' mental health via the V-A-R method

The V-A-R method is a three-step process in conversation that allows educators to connect with students whose mental health may be at risk. This is an important topic in the realm of higher education. Many students experience new stressors that they may not have support or experience in dealing with. The V-A-R method can help students address these issues. Also, the V-A-R method encourages the educator to learn what resources would be helpful to the student to support them. This helps them connect students with the resources they need. 

Validate

The first step of the V-A-R method is to validate the student’s experiences and feelings. 

In summary, this means signaling to the student that the educator is not only affirming what they are feeling, but that it’s okay that they feel that way. This part of the conversation can sometimes look like this:

mental health of college students

With this statement, the educator is letting the student know that what they are struggling through is okay–and valid.

Appreciate

The second step of the V-A-R method is to appreciate the student's courage and willingness to share their feelings. This step lets the student know that they made the right decision in sharing what they are going through.

In order to appreciate a student who chooses to speak up, here is what an educator might say:

mental health of college students

Your appreciation of the student’s openness will increase the student’s level of comfort in this conversation. In turn, this will promote progress for healing.

Refer

Finally, it's time to refer the student to skills and support. This step will guide the educator in finding out what the student needs and demonstrate what resources are available that may help, such as online, in person, or via a phone call.  

A successfully implemented V-A-R method conversation–where the educator is validating their feelings, appreciating their openness, and referring the student to helpful resources–might look like this:

mental health of college students

Validating, Appreciating, and Referring are just the three simple conversation points that go into the V-A-R method. By the end of a V-A-R conversation, the educator has made the student feel heard by validating them. By voicing appreciation, the educator has made the student feel supported in their struggle. Also, the educator has helped them find the resources that might help, including professional and support resources as well as personal skills.

Learn more

In this time of physical distance between educators and students, effective conversations are crucial to ensuring students have a clear path to mental health resources. The V-A-R method is a powerful tool, now and always, to support effective communication between educators and students. Please note, educators do not need to be mental health experts to offer help. For further information, Active Minds and ACUE partnered to create a resource guide for faculty and educators.

These three simple steps in communication, be it through Signal Vine and texting, or in-person, can mean the world to students who are struggling with their mental health, particularly now in the time of COVID-19. Validation and flexibility are valuable, very important attributes that educators can be applying to create a culture that is responsive to the mental health of their students.

It’s also important to take care of your own mental health in these tumultuous times. In addition to supporting students, you all are adapting to a new world of online teaching, working from home, job fluctuation/insecurity, family and home life, and much, much more. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so-to-speak. Tune into your own self-care and check out Active Minds’ self-care webpage for ideas.

* Special thanks to our guest author, Becky Fein, the Director of Training & Engagement at Active Minds.

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