Opening the Session

This section describes how to welcome participants and prepare them to engage with the material. This includes:

  • Welcome and territory acknowledgement
  • Explaining goals and objectives
  • Supporting participants

These slides are available for use with this section of the presentation. For information about downloading presentation slides, see Introduction.


Welcome participants and open with a territory acknowledgement. If you’re unsure of your territory, the website is a helpful resource.

Territory Acknowledgement and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being

A meaningful territory acknowledgement allows us to develop a closer and deeper relationship with not only the land but also the traditional stewards and peoples whose territories we reside, work, live, and prosper in.

Acknowledging the territory within the context of mental health and well-being can open a person’s perspective on traditional ways of knowing and being, stepping out of an organizational structure and allowing participants to delve into their own perceptions, needs, and abilities.

Territory acknowledgements are designed as the very first step to reconciliation. What we do with the knowledge of whose traditional lands we are on is the next important step.

Some questions to consider as you acknowledge your territory:

  • What do we do as good guests here?
  • What can I do in my personal and professional roles to contribute to reconciliation?

Should your institution have an approved territory acknowledgement please use that to open the session; however, we invite you to consider how to make that institutional statement more personal and specific to you, in that moment and in the work you are about to delve into with your participants.

Opening Check-in Activity

After the welcome, introduce yourself. You could ask participants to very briefly introduce themselves, or you may want to start the session with a short participant check-in as a way to invite people into a learning space. You could ask participants to share very brief introductions or do an online poll that asks people to choose the type of weather that matches how they are feeling. There are many different ways to have participants check in with themselves and the group, and we invite you to use questions and reflections that are meaningful to you and the group.

Goals and Objectives

Review the overall goal of this presentation: to help faculty and staff develop the knowledge, skills, perspectives, and confidence to support student mental health and wellness.

After participating in the presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Describe what mental health and wellness is.
  • Describe how students show resilience to deal with common and reversible stress.
  • Recognize the different ways a student may show they are in distress.
  • Respond to a student with a mental health concern in an empathetic way.
  • Refer a student in distress to appropriate resources.
  • Explain the role of faculty and staff in supporting student mental health and the need for boundaries when supporting students in distress.

Participants will leave this session with a clear understanding of their role in responding to students in distress and have basic tools for approaching and referring students to campus resources.

Practical Information

Suggest that as people engage with the presentation, they reflect and think about how the information might apply to situations they have already had with students, or situations that they can imagine coming up in their role as faculty or staff.

Encourage people to provide feedback and share their input during the discussions as this helps improve the learning opportunities.

Encourage people to jot down notes during reflection activities. Encourage them to ask questions if they have any questions during the session.

Let everyone know that after the presentation, they will have access to printable (PDF) handouts of a Wellness Wheel worksheet and a handout on how to respond to students in distress. If possible, have a handout with contact information of your institution’s support services for students.

If you are giving this session online, remind online participants that they can turn off their cameras and move around the room during the session. Ask them to be mindful of using the mute button to reduce noise in the online space.

Supporting Participants

Most importantly, invite people to do whatever they need to take care of themselves throughout the presentation. Acknowledge this may be a difficult topic for some and suggest that participants do what they need to in order to care for themselves. Remind people that everyone is human and is touched in some way by the topics discussed in the presentation. People should feel free at any time to pause, take a break, stretch, and ground themselves.

For example, if a participant needs to leave or if some people prefer not to share, it’s okay. For in-person sessions, you could suggest that if a participant does need to leave a session that they give a thumbs up as they go to let you know they’re okay. Tell everyone that if you don’t see a thumbs up, you’ll ask a colleague to look for the participant outside the session to make sure they are all right.

Also, remind participants that they can share at the level that they feel comfortable with. Suggest that if anything comes up in the session that feels too important or difficult to handle on their own, people shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate services – a counselling office or an employee assistance program – to debrief or discuss it further.

Understanding the Role of Faculty and Staff

Because faculty and staff interact with students frequently, they are often in a position to recognize when a student may be in distress. Responding with empathy and knowing how to connect a student to campus services and resources such as counselling services can be critical factors in supporting students’ mental health and well-being.

However, it’s important to emphasize that staff and faculty are not expected to act as a counsellor and should never try to diagnose a mental health issue. There are services on campus or in the community that support students who are struggling or in distress.

To effectively support students who are struggling, faculty and staff do need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. This session is to clarify what faculty and staff can do to support students’ mental health and wellness.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students from Distress to Suicide. © Vancouver Island University. Added “Welcome,” “Opening Check-in Activity,” “Goals and Objectives,” “Practical Information,” and “Understanding the Role of Faculty and Staff” by Barbara Johnston. CC BY 4.0 license.
  • Added “Territory Acknowledgement and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being” by Jewell Gillies. CC BY 4.0 license.

Media Attributions


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Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Wellness Copyright © 2021 by Gemma Armstrong; Michelle Daoust; Ycha Gil; Albert Seinen; Faye Shedletzky; Jewell Gillies; Barbara Johnston; and Liz Warwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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