The Importance of Mental Health Training in Faculty Development | Vega, Talamo, Coleman

written by: Blanca Elizabeth Vega, Antonio Talamo, Casey Coleman

Mental health training is an overlooked, yet increasingly necessary aspect of faculty development. Faculty development is understood as a process that involves pedagogical and organizational strands and enhancement (Kaylor & Smith, 1984). The pedagogical strand involves content knowledge and teaching skills development. The organizational strand is concerned with how the faculty member understands themselves as part of the organization related to aspects such as employment security and working conditions affected by campus culture and climate (Kaylor & Smith 1984). We argue that providing faculty with mental health training ensures pedagogical and organizational development in two ways: 1) by enhancing the teaching and learning experiences of faculty and students and 2) by participating in a healthier campus climate and culture for all campus stakeholders. 

Utilizing our personal narratives, we share our experiences from a mental health first aid course facilitated in the Summer of 2023, specifically for faculty at Montclair State University, a large public Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in New Jersey. The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course is offered throughout the year to faculty, staff, and students at no cost to them. The course is offered and sponsored by the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Office. The Office of Faculty Excellence (OFE), a faculty development office at Montclair State University worked with CAPS and organized the MHFA course specifically for faculty development purposes. The session was open exclusively to 25 faculty members, on a first come, first serve basis. Additionally, faculty were offered a $250 stipend for attending the training. The training was not a requirement, and the stipends were funded by a grant from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Typically, community members who attend are not provided incentives to attend the training and it is not mandatory. 

Dr. Blanca Elizabeth Vega is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator of the Master of Arts in Higher Education program in the Educational Leadership Department. Antonio Talamo and Casey Coleman are Assistant Directors in their respective areas in the Student Affairs division and co-facilitators of the mental health first aid training. Together, we share our experiences and recommendations for future mental health trainings specifically geared for faculty on college and university campuses.

Mental Health and Higher Education 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health consists of social, emotional, and psychological well-being that guides how individuals work with others and handle individual stress (April 2023). College students specifically are susceptible to stress as they are adjusting to a new academic environment (Acharya et al., 2018). College students are in a developmental stage in their lives marked by transition and social pressures that contribute to depression and other mental health conditions (Hartson et al., 2023). According to researchers who studied the survey responses of 90,000 students across 133 campuses, over 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem (Eisenberg et al., 2023; Lipson et al., 2022). Mental health issues such as depression can result in “anxiety problems, substance abuse, poor academic performance, suicides, risky and violent behavior, and puts them more at risk of mental disorders later in life” (Acharya et al., 2018, p. 655). Further, suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students (CDC, May 2023). Based on the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Mental Health it is estimated that 0.7% of the adults aged 18 or older made at least one suicide attempt (American Foundation for Suicide, 2024).

One way college campuses have addressed rising mental health issues among their students is by providing stakeholders with mental health awareness courses or training. One example is the Mental Health First Aid course. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW, 2024),  

Mental Health First Aid is a course that teaches you how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses (para 1). 

Training faculty and other higher education professionals to recognize warning signs of mental health crises contributes to a four goals: 1) allows faculty to understand the warning signs of mental health before signs reach a crisis level, 2) diminishes stigma associated with mental health, 3) provides faculty with an added layer to address pedagogical issues by sharing support systems with students, and 4) allows faculty to participate in creating a more supportive and knowledgeable community. 

We write this to contribute to the call for more awareness and training for faculty who work with postsecondary students. We wish to extend this call for awareness to discuss training and explore how these lessons from these trainings can be implemented in pedagogical and organizational ways. 


This commentary serves as a reflective opinion piece, written with colleagues who provided the training and a faculty member who engaged in the training. Combined, our perspectives serve to provide faculty members with best practices in pedagogy such as syllabus production to encourage more supportive postsecondary environments. While we also feel mental health first aid training is important for practitioners, we wish to highlight and encourage more faculty participation in this kind of training. We provide our narratives to support our ongoing development as concerned members of higher education interested in improving conditions for students in postsecondary education.

Blanca’s Experience with Mental Health Training

Although I have been a professor for seven years and a HESA professional for 18 years prior to that, mental health training was not a core part of my education. Having a student affairs background, I value the role of mental health and well-being in our students’ lives. As such, I was excited about the MHFA course. The training was for a total of eight hours with a lunch break. The training was led by two Montclair State University student affairs professionals, Antonio Talamo, Assistant Director of the Student Center & Commuter Life and Casey Coleman, Assistant Director of Student Involvement. Three things stood out to me as part of this course: 1) a guiding framework for faculty to remember important points regarding mental health first aid; 2) structure of the classroom to facilitate discussion between faculty and the facilitators; and 3) discussion of related case studies. 

The ALGEE Plan 

Antonio and Casey began the day with describing the ALGEE framework (NCMWb, 2021). Guided by the ALGEE action plan, we learned that ALGEE stands for the following:

    1. Approach, assess and assist with any crisis – assess the risk of suicide or harm and look for signs of trauma and high anxiety.
    2. Listen to the person non-judgmentally.
    3. Give the person reassurance, support, and information.
    4. Encourage the person to seek appropriate professional help.
    5. Encourage the person to seek self-help and other support strategies (para 4).

 By sharing this framework, faculty were reminded that we were not being trained to address mental health issues. The training’s purpose was to provide faculty with awareness about areas of mental health that might show up in our students. While the training did not specifically address issues in the classroom, since the participants were all faculty, we contextualized the work from our teaching experiences. We discussed what we were likely to witness among our students and how mental health training could support our work in classrooms. 

Classroom Structure

Antonio and Casey did not just facilitate discussions, they also modeled good practices in the classroom that can signal that they care for their students.

They structured the classroom in such a way that allowed students (or faculty, in this case) to be comfortable. Faculty were seated at round tables which made small group discussions much easier and the tools I needed for that day (e.g. pens, markers, paper, and name tags) were laid out on the table. The structure of the classroom and the use of round tables helped me just enough to know how to proceed when I was lost about next steps. Round tables made me feel connected to my colleagues who attended that day, many who I did not know and created less distance between faculty and the facilitators. 

Case Studies

Throughout the day, I learned a great deal about the different types of mental health crises that students can experience or face. We touched on the ways personal histories, cultures, and job-related expectations could be barriers to seeking mental health. We learned that possible signs of distress among students include lateness, disappearing from class, and turning in assignments late or not at all. When students show these signs, I can approach them with the ALGEE plan non-judgmentally and with flexibility. Yet, the message was clear: untrained professionals, even those who are well-intentioned, should not address mental health crises without support from other colleagues who are trained. However, faculty can at least be aware that crises do happen, and we can find ways in our classrooms to provide students with awareness that we care about their mental health. 

Antonio – Mental Health Training Co-Facilitator

As someone with a counseling background entering Higher Education, I felt that my niche was always identifying students who needed help at any stage of their distress. I was naive to think that the things I learned about in my master’s program were commonly known ideas for how to better support humans and particularly to support students. When our division announced that they were offering a Mental Health First Aid Instructor certification, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to use my training in a way that provides other individuals a structured approach to mental health. So far, I have certified mostly college students, but it was my session with the faculty members that really opened up my eyes about the importance of this topic and the lack of knowledge around it. 

As someone who has solely worked in Student Affairs and having taught some courses as an adjunct, I believe that faculty play an integral role in identifying those early warning signs of student crisis. Of course, Student Affairs professionals have access to their group of students whom they may supervise, advise, or mentor, but you can argue that faculty see their students more consistently. For example, a professor who has the same class twice a week may notice sudden changes in attendance, participation, attitude, and appearance. They have a better gauge for a student’s tendencies and therefore can catch struggling students before they are in crisis. 

What was interesting to me as I co-led conversations during the Mental Health First Aid training with faculty is that what we discussed was not unfamiliar to the faculty. They noticed some of the signs and symptoms in students. The main issue I saw was that the faculty members were not quite sure how to approach the situation or what the resources were available on campus. The latter was an easy thing to address as the university provides a generic syllabus with resources available. However, truly understanding a student’s concern and approaching it with care is something somewhat unfamiliar to some individuals in the classroom. Once someone learns how to approach an individual and better understands their signs and symptoms, they will be more effective at supporting them.

Casey – Mental Health Training Co-Facilitator

As a staff member and an adjunct faculty member, I have the unique opportunity to connect with students inside and outside the classroom and I see firsthand how students are struggling. As a student affairs professional, it is my job to help students ease into their experiences. One way is by openly discussing mental health and destigmatizing it. 

However, we learned that crises exacerbate the mental health of college students. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis in the world. This is especially true with college populations. Many who experienced disruption in their school settings have missed fundamental aspects of socialization which can lead them to struggle to manage their emotions. These emotions and experiences can indicate greater concerns with their own mental health. The disconnect we experienced during COVID-19 is not something we have fully recovered from, and this isolation and fear can create higher levels of anxiety. Many students missed major moments such as proms, graduations, and driver’s tests. Delays in or entirely missing these major life occurrences have caused stress and feelings of isolation among our students.

When I first learned about Mental Health First Aid, I did not know if I was qualified to lead these sessions.  After going through extensive three-day training as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer and recognizing that my role is highly student-facing, I realize I am more than qualified to educate the community on Mental Health First Aid. Now I am happier than ever that I get to help change the narrative on mental health. 

Today, armed with this knowledge, I chose to lead with empathy. In getting to understand these students, I find the more empathetic I am in my work, the more authentic students are with me. Additionally, as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer, I can educate our community on mental health awareness and give them the tools that they can to assess situations, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance, and encourage the next appropriate steps. We push first aid for physical issues, so it is imperative we also advocate for mental health. 

Recommendations for Centering Mental Health in the Classroom

Blanca’s Recommendations

Artifacts like syllabi provide clues about how faculty feel about or care for their students. Through our syllabi, faculty also may demonstrate if we are prepared to work with students should a crisis arise. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a disastrous and traumatic time, I take from that time some very important lessons supported by existing literature: rigidity versus flexibility (Jones & Vega, 2023). Considering how rigidly students often view syllabi and how the structure and lack of flexibility may affect their mental health, I suggest beginning with the syllabus. This document not only describes the course content but also supports a sense of belonging and student success for students pursuing higher education (Montclair State University, Office for Faculty Excellence, 2024). 

One way to promote more flexibility in your syllabus is to review the academic calendar and implement pause weeks. Pause weeks help students and faculty with time to reflect on the course readings and increase content knowledge. Students in the classes I teach are studying higher education, either working full time or as graduate or research assistants. They are incredibly busy, and it is critical for faculty to remember that while it is important for students to read and engage in assignments, students also need time to think and, most importantly, rest!

Additionally, students need more than academic feedback. Given that our role as faculty demands assessment of learning outcomes, faculty are undoubtedly worried about grading papers and ensuring students are meeting the learning goals outlined for class. What the ALGEE plan reminds me to do as a faculty member is to catch up with students. Create space in your syllabus to meet with your students individually or in small groups. Touch base with them to learn more about who they are as people, not just as students. 

University leaders should consider mental health frameworks for faculty to use should they identify students in distress. As a part of these frameworks, artifacts such as syllabi and physical or online structures of the classroom must be considered. Further, ongoing trainings should be incentivized, readings can be a part of faculty meetings, and data about student mental health should be available for faculty to review. Finally, it is important to consider faculty reflections about self-care for faculty and students. This can be done in new faculty orientations; built into the reappointment and promotion processes; and organized by faculty affairs offices. Success is not just about grades; success can also be how faculty and staff provide students with skills that would encourage them to be healthier adults.

Antonio’s Recommendations 

One of the first things we teach in Mental Health First Aid is that Mental Health First Aiders do not diagnose or treat but assess. Faculty should pay attention to a sudden change in demeanor, behavior, and appearance. Those changes may be signs that something is going on and students need support and faculty may need further assistance to provide that support. 

If faculty notice these signs, providing support can be as simple as sitting down with the student after class and letting them know that you noticed a change and want to support them. The conversation can tell faculty whether there is something more severe going on such as losing a loved one, food insecurity, homelessness, or student stress levels as they navigate midterm week. Before a faculty or staff member approaches a student, they should be prepared for a variety of possible conversations and should have campus resources available. We should also remember that students are already under extreme stress as they are managing and navigating their identities, their classes, and their relationships. Professors should look to provide a space in their classroom where students feel cared for. 

Casey’s Recommendations 

Professors should center their work around the mental health of our students. This approach does not have to be a complicated process. Instructors can foster mental health into their syllabus by listing resources for students at the start of the semester, getting to know students’ names, looking for patterns in student behavior, sharing experiences, and offering occasional check-ins. 

I like to start my classes with a quick thumbs up/ thumbs down activity to gauge how the class is feeling that day. The only way we can break the stigma of mental health is if we start talking about it in the context of our interactions with students. First aid training is common for a reason. Mental health first aid should be just as common. 

As faculty and staff, our well-being is also important to the process of holistic care. When we think of airplanes, we are reminded to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others, a similar approach can be taken for mental health. We should be aware of our own surroundings, we should take care of ourselves, it will help us take better care of others.

Discussion and Questions

More and more higher education leaders are recognizing the importance of mental health awareness for their campuses. As an issue that affects everyone, we have the ability to encourage more awareness of mental health despite our positionality on campus. We encourage you to consider the following questions to begin exploring mental health training on your campuses:

    1. What resources exist in your department, college, or university to support your own and students’ well-being and mental health?
    2. Are all resources updated on your syllabus? With whom can you consult to ensure this is the case?
    3. Who can you partner with (e.g. other universities or organizations) to advocate for  resources such as training or a course on mental health first aid on your campus?
    4. What might your faculty colleagues need to engage in mental health first aid trainings?
    5. What is within your control now that you can do to support students’ mental health?

Faculty can collaborate with other members of their community to build a healthier climate for their students. We encourage faculty and other readers who desire more information about mental health training to consult the counseling staff on your campus; collaborate with offices of Student Affairs; and explore the Mental Health First Aid course from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing: 


American Foundation for Suicide (2024). Suicide Statistics. (

Acharya, L., Jin, L., & Collins, W. (2018). College life is stressful today–Emerging stressors and depressive symptoms in college students. Journal of American college health, 66(7), 655-664.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 25). About mental health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 8). Facts about suicide.

Eisenberg, D., Lipson, S.K, Heinze, J., Zhou, S., (2023). The Healthy Minds Survey.

Hartson, K. R., Hall, L. A., & Choate, S. A. (2023). Stressors and resilience are associated with well-being in young adult college students. Journal of American College Health, 71(3), 821-829.

Jones, S. , Vega, B.E. (2023). We’re Dying Over Here: Seizing the Triple Pandemic for a Radical Liberatory Higher Education. Presented at the American Educational Research Association. 

Kaylor Jr., C. E., & Smith, J. W. (1984). Faculty development as an organizational process. In L. C. Buhl & L. Wilson (Eds.), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development (Vol. 3, pp. 125-136). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., Abelson, S., Heinze, J., Jirsa, M., Morigney, J., … & Eisenberg, D. (2022). Trends in college student mental health and help-seeking by race/ethnicity: Findings from the national healthy minds study, 2013–2021. Journal of affective disorders, 306, 138-147.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW a, 2024), Get Trained.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW b, 2024). ALGEE: How MHFA Helps You Respond in Crisis and Non-crisis Situations.

Office of Faculty Excellence. (2024). Warming up your syllabus. Montclair State University.

Rodríguez, M. D. C. F., & Huertas, I. B. (2013). Suicide prevention in college students: A collaborative approach. Revista interamericana de psicologia= Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 47(1), 53.

Vega, B. E. (2021). Scholar Mami Strategies: Advancing in the Teaching-Oriented Institution at Mid-Career. New Directions for Higher Education, 193(194), 21-28.

About the Authors

Blanca Elizabeth Vega (she/her/ella) [email protected]

Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Blanca E. Vega is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants. Dr. Vega is Associate Professor of Higher Education and Graduate Program Coordinator of the Master of Arts in Higher Education program at Montclair State University. Dr. Vega’s was recently awarded a national grant from the Spencer Foundation to explore the experiences of higher education and student affairs professionals with policies related to undocumented students and the Channing Briggs Foundation grant from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to organize training focused on racialized organizational conflict. Finally, Dr. Vega was recently named a HEAL (Higher Education Academic Leadership) Fellow at Montclair State University where she will explore racially responsive frameworks and servingness in faculty development practices and policies. 

Antonio Talamo (he/ him/his)
[email protected]

Antonio is a first-generation college student and immigrant working as a dynamic higher education professional for nearly a decade. He is also a public speaker with a focus on student leadership and campus culture development. His mission is to influence and impact students and professionals across the globe through his motivational speeches and writings.​ Antonio is also an emcee and personal coach who uses his authentic approach to assist individuals and companies with professional branding, career development, general leadership, and professional growth.  

Casey Coleman (he/ him/ his)
[email protected]

A proud first generation college student, Casey has worked in the field of Higher Education for nearly 10 years primarily within student activities. He believes education is the only true way to change the world and feels fortunate to work in a profession that is dedicated to developing students. When he’s not working, he enjoys coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and scoping out what’s new at the library.