Helping Ontario's colleges and universities enhance capacity to support student mental health and well-being

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Acknowledge the Barriers to Better the Practices: Support for Student Mental Health in Higher Education

What are some of the more common barriers that currently limit the development, implementation, and sustainability of student mental health services in Canadian post-secondary education?

Maria Lucia DiPlacito-DeRango from the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning says that “colleges and universities still struggle between accommodating students and holding the traditional notions surrounding academic integrity – the “school for learning only” model”. She adds that “little evidence shows how teaching faculty and academic staff have moved encouraging efforts and initiatives into practice.

In her paper ‘Acknowledge the Barriers to Better the Practices: Support for Student Mental Health in Higher Education’ she identifies three main barriers:

  1. Prevailing stigma and stereotypes
  2. Underdeveloped policies
  3. Minimal opportunities for professional development and training

To address these each of these barriers, the paper outlines a set of recommendations. Here are some suggestions selected from the paper:

“Firstly, considering the prevalence of stigma and stereotypes, a call for greater mental health literacy is warranted. One suggestion on how greater mental health literacy can be encouraged is to increase awareness in general, such as having student support services departments promote advertisements and publications that draw attention to student well-being.”

“Secondly, it appears that faculty and staff can benefit from greater and clearer policies related to mental health. Moreover, it seems imperative for institutions to continuously review and evaluate existing and future mental health policies, ensuring that they reflect clear, cohesive, updated, and stigma-free ideologies for teaching faculty and academic staff to adopt.”

“Thirdly, greater efforts are necessary in developing more opportunities for teaching faculty and academic staff to engage in mental health training. The most cost-effective way of integrating mental health training is to include mental health topics into existing training and professional development initiatives. Although likely more time consuming and costly, greater collaboration between post-secondary institutions and community agencies can be established for the development of mental health training initiatives, as an addition to the only widely-employed Mental Health First Aid.”

Trying to integrate student mental health into institutional structures is difficult without support at the national level. The paper suggests that the role of provincial and federal governments is to increase efforts in promoting and supporting the mental health of Canadians in general.

It is evident that universities are overwhelmed, based on huge increases in students wanting and needing to access mental health services. The author’s recommendations for acknowledging and addressing the barriers student supports on campus are well-timed to offer post-secondary education stakeholders an insight to the issue at hand. 


 

The full version of Acknowledge the Barriers to Better the Practices: Support for Student Mental Health in Higher Education is published in The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.