We need more research about staff and faculty mental health, experts say

Colleges and universities should do more to support the mental health of faculty and staff, argue Susan Guthrie and Catie Lichten in Times Higher Education.

Guthrie is a research leader at the RAND Corporation and Lichten is an analyst at RAND.

There has been limited research on the mental health needs of higher ed faculty and staff, Lichten and Guthrie write.

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What research does exist suggests that higher ed employees encounter a high degree of stress in their jobs. For example, faculty face extreme pressure to win competitive grants and juggle research, teaching, and administrative tasks.

Faculty and staff also report that they have few resources to turn to. A 2011 study from the University of Texas at Austin found that only 6% of graduate students at major universities felt like they could count on their mentors and advisors during times of stress.

Lichten and Guthrie also cite research from the United Kingdom finding that higher ed employees face a high risk of burnout, comparable to that of health care workers.

To solve this problem, there needs to be more research on the prevalence of adverse mental health conditions, particularly for individuals early in their careers, Lichten and Guthrie suggest. They argue that leaders cannot expect faculty and staff to disclose their conditions on their own.

In fact, a recent study found that many faculty keep their mental health conditions to themselves because they worry that revealing such information could hurt their credibility.

But if nothing is done to learn more about what these faculty are enduring, ultimately, it will contribute to a reduction in productivity for higher education staff, including absenteeism, Lichten and Guthrie write (Guthrie/Lichten, Times Higher Education, 8/27).

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