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Faculty and Staff: Supporting Students During COVID-19

We are all facing sudden unforeseen challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty rapidly reimagined their courses and moved to online and remote delivery of instruction. Our students have quickly transitioned to taking classes online, packed up their rooms and apartments, moved away from campus, and said goodbye to friends and routines. 

Loss and disappointment are at the forefront of emotions as our students and families grieve the experiences they will not get have. Faculty, staff and students have adjusted to new schedules, new routines, working from home, and managing a multitude of other issues alongside the blurring lines of personal and professional lives.  

As we find ourselves interacting in new and different ways, our students are also adjusting a new normal—and it may be very different for each individual. Faculty and staff may encounter students who are feeling stressed, worried, anxious, fearful, or showing signs of grief or depression.  These reactions are to be expected and appropriate under the circumstances. According to the CDC, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones 
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns 
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating 
  • Worsening of chronic health problems 
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs 

Below you will find resources to help you support students during these challenging times. 

How you can support students during COVID-19 

  • Avoid assumptions about students’ reactions. Students may have a range of reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic and related changes to routines. Be mindful not to assume that all students are reacting the same way. 

  • Promote social connection. Physical distancing guidelines do not mean social isolation. Encourage students to remain connected virtually to friends, classmates, peers, family members, and other important people.

  • If possible, be flexible. Students have a range of needs due to illness and/or sudden changes in life circumstances. If you can directly meet a student’s need – for example, by providing an extension or flexibility on assignments – please consider doing so.  

  • Avoid making COVID-19 a constant point of reference or discussion. Some students are managing anxiety and stress by minimizing exposure to news about the pandemic. You can acknowledge COVID-19, but avoid making it a constant topic for those who are minimizing their exposure. 

  • Care for yourself and encourage students to do the same: 
    • Engage in a meaningful activity or hobby. 
    • Take time to read for pleasure, or listen to music or a podcast you enjoy. 
    • Practice yoga and meditation or try to make time each day to do a brief self-check-in: This might be setting a timer for a few minutes to pause, breathe, and notice any sensations or emotions you’re experiencing in your body. See if you can witness these sensations/emotions without judgment or trying to make meaning of them. 
    • Get exercise and fresh air when you can, being mindful of physical distancing. 
    • Practice positive coping strategies and remember not to be too hard on yourself! 

How to talk with students about their concerns 

With all these changes, your role may feel different. Students may be approaching you with varying concerns and you may be left wondering how to best help. During this time, you can help by being supportive and pointing students to appropriate resources (see Resources, below). 

You don’t have to have all the answers or know exactly the right thing to say. Here are some ways to offer empathy and respond to specific concerns: 

  • I’m feeling overwhelmed, scared, concerned, confused, etc.: “Thanks for bringing this up/sharing with me. These are definitely uncertain times. It sounds like talking with someone about this could be helpful for you. I’d be happy to help connect you with a campus resource who can offer you some support.” 

  • I can’t focus; I’m really struggling with getting my work done: “Given what’s going on in our world, I can understand that it must be difficult for you to focus right now. Some students have mentioned that it’s been helpful to have someone to talk to, and have reached out to Find@Northeastern for immediate support. They’re available 24/7. I can give you their information if you’d like, and there is also information on the UHCS website.” 

  • I’m considering taking a medical leave of absence: “Thanks for sharing this with me. I can help connect you with the Medical Leave of Absence Team at UHCS so you can discuss your options and gather more information.”  

If a student expresses concern about being exposed to or having COVID-19, please refer them to the University’s COVID-19 website where they can find resources and information about what the university is doing to manage issues related to the pandemic. 

You can also share UHCS’s COVID-19 pages with resources and information for all Northeastern students, regardless of location, and for Northeastern students located in Massachusetts.

If you have immediate concerns for someone’s safety, health or wellbeing, including medical emergencies, immediately contact NUPD on-campus (617.373.3333) or 911 off-campus. 

University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) can help 

If a student is interested in medical or mental health support through UHCS, you can provide the following information: 

  • Students can call UHCS Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, Tuesday and Thursday 8:00 am – 8:00 pm, and Saturdays 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm at 617.373.2772 to: 
    • Access medical and mental health phone consultations  
    • Learn about virtual mental health support groups available 
  • Students can call Find@Northeastern 24/7 from any location at 1.877.233.9477 (U.S.), 1.781.457.7777 (Int’l) 
    • Immediate support with a licensed mental health provider 
    • Personal assistance in locating and scheduling the help you need 
    • Five free counseling sessions each fall and spring semester, including video counseling options 
    • ICare self-guided learning and skill building 
    • Available to all full-time Northeastern students
  • Through Find@Northeastern, UHCS is partnering with IHope mental health clinicians to offer a free and confidential online support group for Northeastern students. There are two drop-in groups per week starting the week of April 27th. Please see the UHCS support groups page and the sign-up link for more information.

If you would like to consult with a clinician about a student of concern, please call UHCS. 

Northeastern University Resources 

The University has developed a comprehensive website dedicated to COVID-19 FAQs. We encourage you to review this website with questions regarding the latest updates, information and FAQs.

For questions not addressed in the FAQs contact NUCovid19Qs@northeastern.edu  or 617.373.7333. Staff are available Monday through Friday, from 8:30am to 4:30pm.

Resources and support are also available for faculty and staff. Northeastern University’s Employee Assistance Program provides a number of services including online and telephonic mental health support. 

Additional Mental Health Resources