I am an Educator

Understanding Mental Health in Post-Secondary Education

Ensuring students are mentally healthy is the priority of many educators. It is well documented that college and university students are at high risk of developing mental health issues and illnesses. Half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illness start by age 14 and reaches 75% by age 24 1

  • Post-secondary students (PSS) are twice as likely to report mental illness symptoms and elevated distress than non-university youth. 2
  • In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, and accounts for almost 25% of deaths within that demographic. 3
  • Mental wellbeing is a significant predictor of educational attainment. 4

Colleges spend approximately $206 million a year to support at-risk students while the provincial funding is about $45 million.

Unfortunately, post-secondary institutions (PSIs) have faced challenges when attempting to prevent, identify and treat mental illnesses on campus. Issues have arisen due to fragmented services, reactive rather than proactive responses as well as piecemeal and inadequate funding, compounded by a high demand for resources. 5 Most publicly funded PSIs in Canada have mental health promotion and outreach programs to some degree with counselling services are generally available at most locations. 6 However, the depth and breadth of the programs have been questioned. Staffing may not adequately represent the student population, including gender and race diversity, which can inhibit student participation and counselling effectiveness. Counselling sessions were also found to be limited and follow-up procedures uncommon.

Why are so many students struggling with their mental health?

The College Student Mental Health Crisis

State of Mind in the College Classroom

In an attempt to improve services for students, The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association identified seven key components in developing a systemic framework to support “mental well-being and learning”from their organizational to individual levels of operation. 8 Take a moment to look at the framework for PSS mental health and critically analyze where your organization could provide better support.

Keep an eye out for it!

The Mental Health Commission of Canada and CSA Group are committed to developing a standard on Psychological Health and Safety for Post-Secondary Students (PSS Standard).

The PSS Standard will act as a voluntary process guideline to help Canada’s academic institutions promote and support students’ psychological health and safety as well as success.

Dialogue in a Box: How to Host a Dialogue and Shape Canada’s Post-Secondary Mental Health Standard

It is undeniable that post-secondary students experience great levels of stress from multiple sources. Negative experiences and feelings can hinder a student’s willingness to seek support. 9

What is the cause?

The answer is not simple. It is possible that the rise in poor mental wellbeing is associated with increased student diversity, advances in mental health treatment or a greater willingness of students to seek help. Whatever the cause, it is important to remember that students require support now for mental health.

The National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a national online survey that collects information on students’ health behaviours, attitudes and perceptions, showed an increase in depression, anxiety and suicide attempts among Ontario’s post-secondary students.

Over a one year:

Responding to Student Needs

It is possible that you may be the first person to notice a change in a student’s mood or behaviour. Are you clear on how you should respond? Are you confident to react in the way your institution has asked you to? Will a student’s mental health affect yours? Responding effectively is particularly important at PSIs as many students with mental health issues are living on their own for the first time and lack clear guidance and obvious support tools or resources.

“If you choose, you may have a direct conversation with the student to gather more information, express your concern, offer support, and guide them toward resource referral information. You should not take on the role of counsellor or diagnose a student; it is important, however, to be aware of on-campus and local resources so that you are able to provide useful information to assist the student.” ~ More Feet on the Ground, https://morefeetontheground.ca/calls-to-action/

Conducted on behalf of the Conseil Provincial du Secteuruniversitaire, a survey found that 53% of support staff in Quebec universities struggle with some form of psychological distress. 11 The dilemma of the compassionate professor will strike a chord with many instructors who may be juggling more mental health-related accommodation requests than ever, and who wonder how best to help students exhibiting signs of distress. Solutions mandated by staff without input from faculty can certainly create tensions and doubts, and opinions can vary among faculty about how best to offer certain accommodations to students. It is not easy to create a mental health mandate that works for everyone. However, it is clear that faculty play an important role in supporting student mental health. To find out more about this conversation, read this article!

Bridging the Distance: Early Detection

There are also other ways you can support the PSS mental health movement. Consider these resources and figure out how their business models, frameworks and strategies can be implemented in your academic program. Bring these information sources and others you collect to your department meetings and academic chairs.

Tools for Educators and Schools

Youth Voices, Youth Hope

The film focuses on youth mental health issues and suicides and the change and action that are needed in Canada to combat these issues.

It’s time to pull together and adopt a holistic approach to student mental health that includes government, educator, health-care provider, community organization and student input. Students must have access to a suite of mental health supports and services that address a spectrum of needs. If we’re in this together, taking a new approach to mental health can make a difference for everyone. 12

  • More Feet on the Ground is an online resource intended to be a one-stop-shop for any campus professional or student leader looking to understand more about mental health. It is also a great tool to help professionals refer a student to relevant programs or departments. It was developed to help faculty, administration and campus staff learn how to recognize, respond to and refer students experiencing mental health issues on campus.
  • Bridging the Distance provides mental health support for post-secondary staff and students who are seeking information or are in crisis. There are videos, protocols and resources that provide reliable information. Have a look around their website and see what might be useful for you. This site is a joint effort between five northern colleges in Canada.
  • TeenMentalHealth.org is a free, online module resource for educators. In partnership with faculties of education from St. Francis Xavier University, Western University and the University of British Columbia, they have built a comprehensive mental health literacy learner resource for pre-service and practicing teachers.

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness Among Post-Secondary Educators : A Workshop to Promote Understanding and Competence

Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach

The internet houses many great educator resources, but if you are looking for a resource database, then you should check out The Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health. It brings together a multi-disciplinary community of campus service providers to share best practices, improve mental health services for students and enhance support for frontline staff. The centre is a joint venture of Colleges Ontario, Council of Ontario Universities, College Student Alliance, Undergraduate Student Alliance and Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario Division). The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, formerly the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, provided funding support for this initiative.

Educational practice to support students is changing fairly fast given the mental health crisis. Want to help grow this page with the latest information? Email research@csmls.org to provide your article or resource.

We’ve pulled out some valuable resources and added a few of our own to get you started:

Creating Support Systems

Mental Health Issues and Illness

Have a resource to share? Send it to research@csmls.org.