UI study focuses on mental health of Iowa college faculty and staff

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa researchers are studying the mental health and well-being of faculty and staff at college campuses across the state.

Barry Schreier, director of higher education programming at the UI’s Scanlan Center for School Mental Health, says the first phase of the survey was conducted last April in seven community colleges. When the second phase is launched next month, Schreier says it will broaden in scope.

“We are going to try to pick up as many schools as possible, which is going to expand out to additional community colleges,” Schreier says. “We will have at least over half the community colleges in the state, which is a pretty good sample, and we are expanding out to the private schools. There are 30 some in the state and we have picked up several of those, and then we will begin to sample the three regent universities as well.”

Student mental health is not the focus of this study, he says, as many others are already doing that.

“This is unique because it is sampling staff and faculty, which is not very typical,” Schreier says. “Most services and research about campus mental health and well-being are largely student-facing, and that certainly has been the case in Iowa. This is a first-of-its-kind survey of staff and faculty in higher education in the state of Iowa.”

One finding of the survey’s first phase was that nearly 75% of community college staff had referred students to mental health resources in the previous year, which he says was an unexpected and large percentage.

“Staff and faculty, whether they feel ready or not to assist students when they’re in distress, they’re doing it,” Schreier says. “Staff and faculty then apparently have a good understanding of what resources are on their campuses and are making those referrals, understanding that they are first-line responders.”

The survey also quizzed faculty and staff about whether they considered themselves “flourishing,” and most did, but 30% also reported feeling burned out.

“One of our recommendations that we think is a really critical finding of this study is that when campuses are talking, when the press is talking to campuses about campus mental health, it is critical that they talk about both sides of the coin,” Schreier says. “Folks are struggling, a percentage of folks certainly are struggling and living with mental health concerns, and at the same time, can also be flourishing.”

The Scanlan Center is considered the state’s hub for school-based mental health research, training, professional learning, and clinical services.