- Introduction to Mental Health And The Learning Environment
- The Role of Faculty
- Understanding why curriculum design and the learning environment need to reflect mental health
- How to recognize when a student may need support
- How can you support your own mental health?
- Appendix A
- Appendix B
- Appendix C
How to do Curriculum Infusion
The goals of CI are supported by a variety of methods from which professors can select at their discretion. Importantly, CI is accessible to all levels of interest and offers a warm invitation to faculty to experiment with new ways to bring life skills and topical, real-world concerns into the classroom in a manner that enhances and reinforces course content.
Broadly, there are two main ways to introduce CI:
1 Infuse health topics and health education into the content of existing academic courses
The process to infuse health topics into curricula is best viewed as a spectrum of opportunity or a menu of options.
- Including pre-written descriptions, website URLs and contact information for campus wellness resources into syllabi, course outlines, learning platforms and in-class presentations
- Inviting a resource person to present on key student services
- Working alongside health promotion or teaching and learning centre staff to review course curricula and consider ways to add health-and-well-being-focused components that will reinforce course content while simultaneously increasing student awareness of health-related issues
- Components may include: assigned readings, guest speakers, discussions, graded projects and assignments, and community-based experiential learning components such as placements/stages
Many academic courses can readily include a health focus, including subjects where the link between health topics and academic material may be less obvious.
- Business students could investigate the impact of substance misuse on workforce productivity and labour relations. They can also explore the qualities of an effective workplace drug and alcohol recovery program. As personal finances are also an important element of wellness, business classes could also give assignments that help students better understand their own finances or debt.
- Communications students could examine media’s positive and negative impacts on youth and adult body image.
- Linguistic students could be assigned health-related readings that aid their cultural awareness. For example, mental health can be a taboo topic in certain cultures and can be stigmatised through language. Offering it as a topic for discussion in English as a second language classes could improve awareness of services.
- Women’s studies students could learn about public health concepts, such as gender as a social determinant of health, by examining different health outcomes between males and females, and how improving gender equity can reduce health inequities.
- Math students could practice mathematical modeling using the effect of food intake, sex and weight on alcohol impairment. Students in statistics class could practice quantitative reasoning through working with population health data sets.
- Engineering students could learn about innovative safety barrier options when learning about bridge design.
2 For-credit health-and-wellness-focused courses
Institutions may also consider offering for-credit courses. As an example, Concordia University’s students shared their desire for such courses in the Student health and wellbeing review (2018). Students, staff and faculty asked that life skills and healthy behaviors be taught in classrooms and to not assume emerging adults could or would acquire these skills on their own. The review also found students are most inclined towards credit-level courses as opposed to non-credit courses.
Unless wellness topics are built into a course’s grading scheme, few students will be willing or able to invest time into it. Students will prioritize projects that will earn them grades.
Methods to introduce for-credit courses
The university can promote for-credit health-and-wellness-themed courses to students as electives that are available to students from all faculties as e-courses (Appendix B has viable examples from Concordia University).
Institutions that seek to go further could consider introducing a pre-determined number of health/wellness/health promotion credits as a degree requirement (see Appendix 2 for examples).
In response to this new requirement, new for-credit electives could be created, inspired by topics requested by students in consultations, as well as by courses that are being offered at other universities (see Appendix 2 for examples). When there are sufficient course offerings, the university could create a minor in health and wellness. Minors are popular with students because they allow them to study another discipline in-depth. A wellness minor could be attractive to prospective students who are seeking a well-rounded learning experience from their degree (see Appendix 2 for examples).
An example of a framework for student well-being in the classroom is ‘Well-being In Learning Environments’ from Simon Fraser University, which showcases 10 conditions for student well-being. Each of these conditions is important because they can have a positive impact on student mental health when properly implemented. SFU uses this framework to inform course content, in-class activities and their teaching practices. For more information about these 10 conditions, see SFU’s guide on the resources tab of this toolkit.
Another example is UBS’s teaching practices that promote student wellbeing. These teaching practices can help teaching staff create more universally accessible courses that take students’ mental health and wellbeing into account. For more information, visit the resources tab of this toolkit.
Student wellbeing is improved through
Students are motivated to learn and feel they are learning successfully
Helping students find value in the subject matter
Helping students find value in the learning process
Structuring the course effectively
Delivering the material effectively
Supporting learning outside the classroom
Students feel connected to their peers and instructors
Fostering instructor-student relationships
Fostering peer-to-peer relationships
Instructors recognize that the students’ experience extends beyond academics
Recognizing that students have lives outside academics
Openly discuss wellbeing-related topics
Creating a safe classroom environment