Introduction


An increasing number of students from a variety of backgrounds are choosing to pursue post-secondary education. As the number of students on campus increases, there has been an upward trend in students reporting feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and being overwhelmed when it comes to their college or university experience. Alongside these trends, campus mental health services are reporting significant increases in year-over-year demand for service.[1]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596 Rates of depression and suicidal ideation are on the rise (NCHA, 2016).

Furthermore, students are reporting increased levels of academic-related stress. In 2016, a sampling of students from across Ontario revealed that over the course of one year, 59.3 per cent of post-secondary students found their academics to be hard to handle or traumatic (NCHA, 2016).  This level of stress can lead to students experiencing mental health issues and negative impacts on their ability to learn.[2]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596

One of the first places where mental health issues are first noticed on campus is in the classroom.[3]Rango, M. L. (2017). Situating the Post-Secondary Instructor in a Supportive Role for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16(2), 284-290. doi:10.1007/s11469-017-9740-4 The learning environment is the centrepiece of a student’s post-secondary experience. Every student has a touchpoint with their classes, whether online or in person. How students experience their learning environment impacts their ability to learn and can impact their mental well-being.[4]Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T. (2016). Understanding Students’ Experiences of Well-Being in Learning Environments. Higher Education Studies, 6(3), 90. doi:10.5539/hes.v6n3p90

Post-secondary students are, due to their age, at a higher risk of developing signs of a mental illness. Furthermore, within this population there are underrepresented demographics (such as women and 2SLGBTQ+ identified people) at an even higher risk.[5]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596 At the same time, the amount of work teaching staff have in their portfolios is on the rise, and they too are expressing increased stress levels. Faculty members who are stressed may unintentionally bring this stress into the classroom, creating a tense environment for students.

There are many resources available to support student mental health, both on campus and in the community, but students often encounter barriers to accessing supports in either setting. Less than half of students who need services access them, and when they do, they often prefer to access supports from non-professionals, such as peers or faculty.[6]Rango, M. L. (2017). Situating the Post-Secondary Instructor in a Supportive Role for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16(2), 284-290. doi:10.1007/s11469-017-9740-4 Some of the reasons why students choose to not access services include lack of awareness of what is available, difficulty identifying the need to seek help and the potential for administrative repercussions.[7]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59. For students entering post-secondary with a mental health issue, they often choose not to disclose it because of the stigma around mental health.[8]Wada, M., Suto, M. J., Lee, M., Sanders, D., Sun, C., Le, T. N., . . . Chauhan, S. (2019). University students’ perspectives on mental illness stigma. Mental Health & Prevention, 14, 200159. doi:10.1016/j.mph.2019.200159[9]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.

Students have identified that mental health issues have an impact on their ability to learn as well as on their academic performance. Mental health creates a foundation from which students can build their potential and optimize their ability to learn. [10]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.

When students learn how to maintain their mental health while experiencing success in the post-secondary setting, they are more likely to be mentally healthy community members.[11]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.

There is mounting evidence that student mental health and well-being are central to both their ability to learn and academic success.[12]Fernandez, A., Howse, E., Rubio-Valera, M., Thorncraft, K., Noone, J., Luu, X., . . . Salvador-Carulla, L. (2016). Setting-based interventions to promote mental health at the university: A systematic review. International Journal of Public Health, 61(7), 797-807. doi:10.1007/s00038-016-0846-4 Therefore, it is essential to ensure the virtual or in-person classroom and all other spaces at a post-secondary institution are designed to promote well-being. Supporting student mental health has moved from being at the periphery to a central component of academic success with which post-secondary staff and faculty must engage.[13]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59. Given the close relationship between mental health and the post-secondary institution’s academic mandate, campuses would benefit from supporting the well-being of those within their campus community, students and staff included.[14]Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596 The tide is moving toward more colleges and universities using a “whole campus” or systematic approach where mental wellness is a commitment at every level – from students to faculty and administration – and engrained in the policies that govern the campuses’ practices and procedures. (Okanagan Charter, 2015; [15]Rango, M. L. (2017). Situating the Post-Secondary Instructor in a Supportive Role for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16(2), 284-290. doi:10.1007/s11469-017-9740-4[16]Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59. There is a part to play for every person who works at a post-secondary campus.

Incorporating practices that support student mental health may sound overwhelming. This toolkit will help faculty and teaching staff take steps within the classroom in a collective effort to support student mental health. We hope this toolkit and its recommendations can be a support for faculty working to embed mental well-being into everyday practice.

References

References
1, 2, 5, 14Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687. doi:10.1080/07294360.2019.1576596
3, 6, 15Rango, M. L. (2017). Situating the Post-Secondary Instructor in a Supportive Role for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16(2), 284-290. doi:10.1007/s11469-017-9740-4
4Stanton, A., Zandvliet, D., Dhaliwal, R., & Black, T. (2016). Understanding Students’ Experiences of Well-Being in Learning Environments. Higher Education Studies, 6(3), 90. doi:10.5539/hes.v6n3p90
7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16Mackean, G. (2011). Mental health and well-being in postsecondary education settings. CACUSS, 1-59.
8Wada, M., Suto, M. J., Lee, M., Sanders, D., Sun, C., Le, T. N., . . . Chauhan, S. (2019). University students’ perspectives on mental illness stigma. Mental Health & Prevention, 14, 200159. doi:10.1016/j.mph.2019.200159
12Fernandez, A., Howse, E., Rubio-Valera, M., Thorncraft, K., Noone, J., Luu, X., . . . Salvador-Carulla, L. (2016). Setting-based interventions to promote mental health at the university: A systematic review. International Journal of Public Health, 61(7), 797-807. doi:10.1007/s00038-016-0846-4
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