The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has released a new National Standard to guide the development of policies, procedures, and practices at post-secondary education institutions that promote positive student mental health and well-being.
The National Standard of Canada for Mental Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students, the first of its kind in the world, is designed to enhance and expand strategies already in place by Canada’s universities, colleges, and polytechnics.
Developed by an expert technical committee over two years, the Standard was informed by extensive dialogues from coast to coast with students, post-secondary administrators, service providers, health agencies, governments, and persons with lived and living experience of mental illness.
“We recognize that the majority of mental illnesses are first diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 24, when many are in or just out of post-secondary education,” said Louise Bradley, president and CEO of the MHCC, which championed this work in collaboration with CSA Group, a global leader in standards development, with support from Bell Let’s Talk, The Rossy Foundation, The RBC Foundation, and Health Canada.
“Students may be experiencing even higher levels of stress and anxiety as the pandemic unfolds,” Bradley noted. “There is a clear and pressing need. The new Standard will help post-secondary institutions address this critical societal issue for our young people.”
The voluntary guidelines support numerous key outcomes, including:
- increased awareness about mental health and decreased stigma,
- healthier and safer institutional environments, and
- improved life and resiliency skills students can use at school, work, and in daily life.
Read the National Standard of Canada for Mental Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students at mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/studentstandard.
Q. What is the Standard?
- The Standard is a set of flexible, voluntary guidelines to help post-secondary institutions support the mental health and well-being of their students. It’s the first of its kind in the world.
- It’s adaptable for use by any post-secondary institution. Each can decide what is achievable given its specific situation, resources, and local context. Each can determine priorities based on its most pressing opportunities or challenges.
- The Standard is underpinned by a commitment to continuous improvement. Regardless of where an institution starts, improvements can be made to student mental health and well-being over time.
Q. Why is the Standard needed?
- Post-secondary education can be exciting and transformative, but it can also be challenging, as students juggle academic, financial, and personal demands.
- Three out of four mental health problems are first diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 24, when many are in or just out of post-secondary education.1
- The global pandemic has created even more uncertainty for students, while heightening their feelings of stress and anxiety over concerns about health and safety, isolation, finances, and the future, just to name a few.
- The Standard is a set of voluntary guidelines designed to help post-secondary institutions enhance existing strategies as they work to foster positive student mental health.
Q. What are the guidelines?
- The Standard provides a foundation for a socio-ecological framework to develop, implement, and continuously improve policies, programs, environments, and initiatives, including
- the promotion of student well-being through the enhancement or creation of sustainable environments that reduce modifiable stressors or risk factors
- recommendations for a systemic or holistic approach, which include
- addressing institutional-level activities (e.g., leadership, commitment, confidentiality, and stakeholder participation and engagement)
- psychosocial factors linked to mental health and well-being
- post-secondary environments
- literacy, education, and stigma reduction
- early intervention, mental health supports, and suicide prevention
- crisis management and postvention
- the articulation of roles and responsibilities
- protective factors to consider
- indicators to measure success.
- By embedding mental health and well-being into their learning environments, everyday operations, business practices, policies, and academic mandates, post-secondary institutions can inspire lifelong learning and foster more creative and innovative communities.
Q. Aren’t post-secondary institutions already doing enough to support student mental health?
- Many post-secondary institutions have been diligent in implementing student mental health and well-being strategies.
- The Standard provides an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to support positive mental health and well-being for students.
- Sharing knowledge-based best practices through a systematic pan-Canadian framework can bring further benefits.
- Student mental health and well-being is a shared responsibility. Post-secondary institutions cannot meet this growing challenge alone.
- It’s vital to support student mental health and well-being through an approach that encompasses all students, faculty, and staff in the post-secondary community and all stakeholders in the broader community.
Q. How should a post-secondary institution implement the Standard?
- The Standard is adaptable for use by any post-secondary institution: each can decide what is achievable based on its specific situation, resources, and community context, and each can determine priorities based on its most pressing opportunities or challenges.
- It is not meant to provide a checklist of actions that all institutions must immediately implement.
- The guidelines are flexible and can be adapted and expanded over time.
- Using a knowledge-informed framework, the Standard creates a platform for setting priorities while helping institutions focus energy and resources on assessing capacity and areas to focus on.
The MHCC has developed a Starter Kit to help post-secondary institutions align their efforts with the Standard.
1 Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602. https://doi.org/doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593