--Original published at KatieMillerPSY105
Mental health services on college campuses have become more prevalent in recent years due to the implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and increased media attention. Most colleges highlight their student wellness services in an effort to attract and support students. While institutes of higher education spend significant resources to aid the student population in mental health issues, little was known of the extent of mental disabilities in faculty and staff. Most information on faculty mental health came from self-disclosure in papers and at conferences. Four researchers, Margaret Price, Mark S. Salzer, Amber O’Shea, and Stephanie L. Kerschbaum, decided to study faculty members with mental health histories and the support they receive on campus.
Their article “Disclosure of Mental Disability by College and University Faculty: The Negotiation of Accommodations, Supports, and Barriers” addresses faculty mental health in the first large group survey across higher education institutions in the United States. This comprehensive survey provides more detail into previous conclusions or “hunches” based on small-scale studies and first-person accounts, including personal experiences by the researchers.
This innovative survey compiled the results of 267 college and university faculty members who self-identified as having mental illness, mental-health histories or mental disabilities. Participants were solicited through electronic communications in Listservs, direct emails to college human resources departments and outreach to professional organizations. The survey was designed to be anonymous to allow for greater participation without possible stigma attached to respondents.
The primary objectives of the survey were to determine the familiarity of faculty to mental health accommodations available under the law and the extent of accommodations and support they received. Almost 70% of respondents indicated that they had no or limited familiarity with the accommodations available at their institution. More interesting, only 13% of respondents actually requested accommodations, while the majority (87%) did not. Some reasons given for not requesting accommodations included not needing any special accommodations, not being aware of accommodations, negative impact to tenure/promotion, or personal privacy reasons. Respondents were concerned about the stigma of mental illness and the impact on credibility as faculty. These results mirror the personal experiences of the authors in their respective college settings.
Another interesting finding of the survey was that about half of the faculty disclosed their mental health history to a colleague even though they did not avail themselves of college services. Only 10% of participants had disclosed the information to a dean, provost or the Office of Disability Services. Some of the reasons provided for not disclosing information to college administration were personal privacy or negative impacts to promotion/tenure, contract renewal or even employment.
From a support perspective, the study found that the majority of respondents found much more mental health support from family, friends and outside professionals than with services provided on campus or with colleagues and supervisors.
This study provides more insight into faculty members seeking support for their mental health issues and indicating that most faculty do not use available college services. As fear and stigma are cited by many as a reason to not seek accommodations at their college, the authors believe more work is needed in both practical accommodations and in ideological change in recognizing psychiatric disabilities in the academic workplace. While further studies are needed to determine the extent of faculty mental health issues across college campuses, these results demonstrate that current college and university mechanisms for dealing with mental disabilities in faculty are inadequate.
Flaherty, Colleen. “Study of Faculty Members with Mental Health Issues Finds Mix of Attitudes on Disclosing and Seeking Assistance.” Esports Quickly Expanding in Colleges, Inside Higher Ed, 8 June 2017, www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/08/study-faculty-members-mental-health-issues-finds-mix-attitudes-disclosing-and.
Price, M., Salzer, M. S., Oshea, A., & Kerschbaum, S. L. (2017). Disclosure of Mental Disability by College and University Faculty: The Negotiation of Accommodations, Supports, and Barriers. Disability Studies Quarterly, 37(2). doi:10.18061/dsq.v37i2.5487
One of the most challenging aspects of summarizing academic research is to determine what information to include for the readers. Since this academic study was based on survey questions rather than scientific experiment, the results are more easily presented to the public since definition of scientific terms and methodology are not needed. However, some of the survey results need to be left out of the article for sake of length and readability. I was also concerned to present the survey results in a manner that preserves the academic summary rather than persuade readers by selectively disclosing pieces of information.
I decided to remove some of the detailed demographic information for the respondents as the details of type of professor (assistant, associate, full or non-tenure-track) or type of institution (graduate school, four-year undergraduate, community colleges) may not be as important to the readers of the article. By highlighting the main objectives of the study, I feel that I can convey the findings without dedicating too much space to specific figures. As in the original pop culture article, I did not reproduce the tabular summary of results. However, I did want to incorporate some of the survey results into the summary by highlighting the lack of awareness of accommodations, reasons for not requesting accommodations and the resources faculty uses for support.
As the scientific study was based on survey responses rather than a scientific experiment with control groups, I attempted to address the five critical questions for reading research as best as possible. I wanted to disclose the variables used in the study including the definition of self-identified mental health issues and describing the method for selecting participants, the correlations from the study results and the opportunities for further studies. Since these results are based on survey responses rather than a scientific experiment with control groups, my media report does not make any casual claims or generalizations.
There are some similarities between my media production and Colleen Flaherty’s article, “Portrait of Faculty Mental Health.” Both narratives summarized the key elements of the scholarly article by addressing the stigma of disclosure of mental illness and low percentage of faculty utilizing accommodations. Both my summary and the article detailed the parameters of the study including selection of participants, the variable of mental health issues in faculty and the opportunities for further study. Neither of us made any casual claims or generalizations. Flaherty had the ability to receive direct feedback from the researchers to add additional content to her article. I had also reached out to the principal author of the study, but I was not able to receive any additional insight into the study or more recent follow up. This additional information would have aided in my summary as approximately 30% of Flaherty’s article contains direct quotes from the researchers. The news article also provided more statistical detail than my summary. I felt that the readers would still understand the overall findings of the survey with fewer numerical amounts and could reference the original study for the detailed information. My intention was to support the study findings that college faculty is generally unaware of accommodations on campus and tends not to disclose mental health issues to administration.
After reading the pop culture article and the scholarly research article, I have a much better appreciation for describing psychological research. I feel that Flaherty’s news article effectively covered the academic survey, including the parameters and results. I initially thought that I could easily summarize the academic research into a media report effectively addressing the five critical questions for reading research while making the summary enjoyable to read. It is much more difficult to summarize almost 18 pages of scholarly work into a two-page article. I first had to read through the academic report a few times to fully comprehend the major themes to be sure that I could articulate them appropriately. While I felt that the pop culture article was a nice summary, I wanted to be sure that I covered all the important issues without distorting the results by adding my own commentary or selected facts. I did not have the opportunity to interview the authors as the pop culture article did, but those insights would have been beneficial to my summary. For reporting on scientific articles, I feel that it is critically important for the author to fully comprehend the intent of the research and the appropriate findings, conclusions or generalizations. I appreciate the opportunity to create the media production, but I believe that I need much more background in technical writing and scientific theory to be an accomplished scientific journalist.