Evaluated Practices

Supportive, Safe, and Inclusive Post-Secondary Environment

The first strategic pillar of the Standard involves the establishment of a supportive, safe and inclusive post-secondary environment. According to the Standard, this is an environment that “contributes to an institutional culture that is conducive to student mental health and well-being” (Canadian Standards Association [CSA], 2020). This pillar outlines the importance of inclusivity and safety within the physical, social, online, and academic environments.

One three-year intervention research project titled the Caring Campus Project aimed at promoting awareness about the intersections of gender, mental health and alcohol use was conducted on three Canadian university campuses (Stuart et al., 2018). The authors found that first-year male students were willing to take on leadership roles to promote mental health and healthier alcohol use among their peers (Stuart et al., 2018). The authors conclude that empowerment strategies successfully encouraged male students to recruit like-minded peers to advance men’s mental health at the university, and transform campus drinking cultures (Stuart et al., 2018). The empowerment strategies used included the use of student summits, contact-based education, the creation of a substance use continuum, and the dissemination of information about actual substance use patterns on campus, as well as perceptions of substance use, and positive social norms (Stuart et al., 2018). This particular intervention focuses on safety within the physical and social environments and therefore aligns with the first pillar of the Standard.

Another intervention that was evaluated in 6 Canadian provinces (Wei et al. 2021), and which targets resources students are already using to promote mental wellness, is the Go-To Educator Training program. This gatekeeper-type program trains educators whom students naturally gravitate to for support, in order to improve their mental health knowledge and early identification skills, and to decrease stigma (Wei et al. 2021). Wei and colleagues found that the program significantly improved knowledge and significantly decreased stigma among these educators, across the provinces.

By targeting the mental health knowledge of faculty, this intervention is likely to have the greatest impact on campus culture and to create safety within that culture, thus aligning with the first pillar of the Standard.

In a similar intervention, Algonquin college designed a one-hour online training course for faculty members to understand their role in supporting students struggling with their mental health, with the aim of improving attitudes that faculty have toward students with mental health problems. The course incorporates contact-based education in the form of video clips of students who have experienced a mental illness (Stuart, Koller & Armstrong, 2014). The results of the study investigating this intervention found that the program was highly successful in significantly improving the proportion of faculty members who answered at least 80% of the questions correctly (with non-stigmatizing answers) on the post-test compared to the pre-test, thus indicating lower stigma scores (Stuart, Koller & Armstrong, 2014). This program similarly targets the mental health knowledge of faculty, and will likely create safety in the academic environment, aligning with the first pillar of the Standard.

Literacy, Education, and Stigma Reduction

The second strategic pillar of the standard involves the promotion of mental health awareness and “understanding of the factors that contribute to positive mental health”(CSA, 2020), thus reducing stigma around mental health issues and contributing to a culture of help-seeking. This pillar focuses on increasing competencies and understanding among all members of the post-secondary community, including students, faculty, and staff. Some interventions from the previous pillar align with this pillar as well, namely the Go-To Educator Training program and the online training course designed by Algonquin college, both of which address stigma among faculty members.

Transitions is an evidence-based life-skills resource designed to help students transition from high school to college or university. Gilham et al. evaluated a series of peer-led mental health literacy seminars for students based on the mental health content from Transitions. The results indicated that after the training session, seminar participants had significantly improved knowledge scores and help-seeking efficacy scores (Gilham et al., 2018). These results suggest that using the Transitions resource and a brief PowerPoint presentation may be feasible to apply and may have a positive impact on the mental health literacy of college students (Gilham et al., 2018). This intervention, with its focus on increasing student competencies around mental health, aligns with the second pillar of the Standard. In a similar vein, Queen’s University has established a for-credit mental health literacy course for undergraduate students, available as an interdisciplinary elective (King et al., 2022). The course aims to provide students with an evidence-based understanding of how to care for their mental health and well-being, recognize mental health concerns, and seek help when those concerns arise (King et al., 2022). In a pilot study evaluating the effectiveness of the course, students completed a survey before and after the 12-week course, which assessed their mental-health knowledge, emotional self-awareness, mental health, stigma, and other health-related measures (King et al., 2022). Course participants had increased mental health knowledge and emotional self-awareness after the course was completed, were less likely to engage in cannabis or alcohol use, and had better sleep quality by the end of the term (King et al., 2022). Similarly to the previous intervention, this course focuses on increasing student knowledge of mental health and well-being, thus aligning with the second pillar.

Finally, The Inquiring Mind program is an evidence-based program by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which is designed to promote mental health and reduce the stigma of mental illness in the post-secondary context (Szeto et al., 2021). Szeto et al. evaluated the effectiveness of The Inquiring Mind program in students across 16 Canadian post-secondary institutions using a meta-analytic approach. The results showed that The Inquiring Mind program both improved resiliency and decreased stigmatizing attitudes and that these effects were mostly retained after three months, suggesting that The Inquiring Mind is an effective mental health literacy program for post-secondary students (Szeto et al. 2021). Once again, this intervention has a focus on increasing student knowledge, and therefore aligns with the second pillar of the Standard.


The third strategic pillar of the Standard involves the “duty to accommodate free from discrimination and undue hardship” (CSA, 2020). The goal of this pillar is to help students remain within their post-secondary institutions and to provide the tools to allow them to flourish. There is a general paucity of research aiming to investigate the mental health impacts of academic accommodations and other accessibility considerations on post-secondary students in Canada. However, one study was found that evaluated an accessibility intervention for post-secondary students.

A case study at McMaster University investigated the experience of disabled students as they were invited to partner with accessibility services to user-test their accessibility website (Brown et al., 2020). Qualitative results from the study indicate that disabled students felt that their disability knowledge was affirmed as valuable, and that this increased their sense of belonging on campus (Brown et al., 2020). The authors conclude that a partnership approach that incorporates students with disabilities is beneficial, as it validates and draws on their specific expertise (Brown et al., 2020). This intervention, with its focus on increasing access for disabled students, clearly aligns with the third strategic pillar of the standard.

Early Intervention

The fourth pillar of the Standard involves equipping the post-secondary community “with the knowledge to recognize, respond, and refer students who are exhibiting warning signs of mental health and well-being issues to appropriate resources and services”. This pillar focuses on screening students for psychosocial needs, training the community on signs of declining mental health, and establishing navigators to help students connect to appropriate resources. Some interventions from the previous pillars align with this pillar as well, specifically the Go-To Educator Training program, which targets educators’ early identification skills.

Another intervention that aligns with this pillar is HEARTSMAP-U, a psychosocial self-screening and resource navigation support tool adapted for use by post-secondary students (Virk et al., 2022). The original HEARTSMAP assessment has demonstrated evidence for strong psychometric properties, high clinical utility, and user acceptability (Virk et al., 2022). The adaptation process for HEARTSMAP-U involved a cross-sectional expert review by Canadian mental health professionals as well as a series of focus groups with diverse post-secondary students, to refine the tool (Virk et al., 2022). Across the focus groups, most students felt that the tool’s psychosocial areas applied to their lived experience and that HEARTSMAP-U captured the challenges they experience in the post-secondary context (Virk et al., 2022). This self-screening tool clearly aligns with the fourth pillar of the Standard.

Mental Health Supports

The fifth strategic pillar of the Standard involves the provision of mental health and well-being supports such as peer support, e-mental health, counselling, mindfulness, or outdoor programs, among others. This pillar focuses on the fundamental supports that provide care for student mental health.

One intervention that aligns with this pillar is the physical activity program that was evaluated by deJonge and colleagues (2021) at an unnamed Canadian university. This 6-week individualized and supervised program consisted of weekly hour-long sessions that included 30 minutes of engaging in physical activity behaviour change strategies followed by 30 minutes of physical activity training. Results of the study found that participants of the program had a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, and psychological distress, and overall that the program is an acceptable and effective holistic approach for improving student mental health (deJonge et al., 2021).

Another intervention aligning with the fifth pillar of the Standard is the Mindfulness Virtual Community program at York University. This web-based program is guided by mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy principles and aims to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress in students. While the program did not significantly impact depression, anxiety, or mindfulness scores, according to a study of the program’s effectiveness, participants of the program did have significantly lower stress scores compared with wait-list control (Ritvo et al., 2021). With its emphasis on providing mindfulness and CBT supports to students, this intervention aligns with the fifth pillar of the standard.

In a similar intervention at Brock University, the Mindfulness Experiment was conducted in class and was led by the course instructor. The intervention included a presentation on mindfulness followed by a short (3-5 minute) group meditation, employing various breathing techniques to support students in maintaining awareness of the present moment. A study on the intervention’s effectiveness was repeated in nine courses over four years (Gardner and Kerridge, 2019). The results show that the majority of participating students felt that the in-class meditation practice had a positive effect on their mental health and learning, and further suggest that the practice helped to reduce feelings of anxiety and enhanced listening and attention among participating students (Gardner and Kerridge, 2019). This intervention represents a rare example of mental health supports being provided by faculty rather than counselling staff, still aligning with the fifth pillar of the Standard.

Another intervention that fits in this category is the Peer Support Centre at McGill University. The Peer Support Centre (PSC) works closely with the university’s mental health services and professionals to provide free, one-on-one, non-directional active-listening support to McGill University students. The PSC has over 100 peer support volunteers who all undergo rigorous training and assessments to be able to support students. According to a study that investigated the viability of the peer-support model, the PSC is used by students of varying sexes, genders, and ethnicities (Suresh et al., 2021). Furthermore, evidence shows that students find the centre easy to use and they rely on it as an alternative form of support, particularly when they encounter barriers preventing them from accessing professional services such as therapy (Suresh et al., 2021). As peer support is explicitly named in the Mental Health Supports clause, this program clearly aligns with the fifth pillar.

Finally, the From Intention to Action (FITA) program is an evidence-based counselling and learning skills program developed by Carleton University and provided by graduate-level student trainees in counselling. FITA is a twelve-week individual counselling program that begins with a holistic assessment and feedback session. Results of a study evaluating FITA’s effectiveness showed that participants who were referred to the program due to being identified as being overwhelmed, significantly improved their mental health and well-being over the course of the program (Bilodeau and Meissner, 2018). These results suggest that a program such as FITA may be a feasible approach to supporting vulnerable students in addressing their needs (Bilodeau and Meissner, 2018). Through its provision of direct counselling, this program aligns well with the fifth pillar of the Standard.

Crisis Management and Postvention

The sixth and final strategic pillar of the standard involves the effective response to crisis situations, as well as support following the crisis or critical event. This pillar focuses on the development of processes and protocols for crisis management, through awareness campaigns, training, and the provision of resources.

In 2006 the JED Foundation released their Framework for Developing Institutional Protocols for the Acutely Distressed or Suicidal College Student. The framework was developed by a group of experts through a roundtable discussion model that included senior college administrators, college counselors and other mental health practitioners, as well as attorneys specializing in college issues. One article by Washburn and Mandrusiak (2010) outlined the implementation process for this framework at the University of British Columbia. The article highlights a number of new programs including a gatekeeper training, crisis intervention team, and enhanced crisis management policy and procedures, providing empirical support for these programs from the international literature (Washburn and Mandrusiak, 2010). Initial data collection from this implementation suggests that UBC’s gatekeeper training has increased knowledge competencies and impacted attitudes favorably (Washburn and Mandrusiak, 2010).

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