Why are post secondary students a critical group for improving a society’s mental health?
(These points may be helpful for advocating a particular initiative, or for increasing resources for mental health initiatives in general.)
Post secondary students are a critical group for making sure there are appropriate and adequate mental health supports for several reasons:
- Having mental wellness as well as mental illness and issues support helps make the best use of the investment in post secondary education, whether that investment is by the students, by families, or by citizens.
- There is growing evidence that student mental health is a critical foundation for students to optimize their learning and be successful in their academic work. Mental health is more than mental illness of course, but even having appropriate treatment and support for mental illnesses and issues will help improve academic performance. One Canadian study (Canadian Council on Learning, Patterson and Kline, 2008) pointed out that students described the following impacts of mental illness or having trouble coping: poor academic performance, dropping out, increased anxiety, poor grades and loss of interest in learning.
- Many life assets – developmental skills gained from building mental health capabilities, such as empathy, communication, recognizing stress in others, and coping skills, are important to ‘enabling skills’ (or ‘soft skills’) valued by employers in a dynamic changing world.
- Post secondary education is an important time in people’s development.
- Most people who are going to have lifelong mental health issues will be diagnosed before they turn 24 years of age. This is also an important time of life for developing habits and beliefs. So, developing healthy ways of coping with life challenges can help create helpful and lasting life habits. For students 18-25, learning stress regulation habits that work for them is helpful for developing executive functions in brain development.
- Older students a re in life transitions and so are also at a point where the potential for changing habits and beliefs is possible, as well as incorporating practices for continually improving brain health and brain plasticity for cognitive capacity.
- More people with mental illness are pursuing higher education.
- Better treatment protocols and resources support people to live more normalized lives, and improve the ability to succeed in higher education. It is critical that there are adequate resources for supporting people to maintain their treatment plans while in the high stress environment of postsecondary education is critical.
- Post secondary institutions are considered to be high-stress environments.
- Student surveys from both Canada and the United States show that many students experience high stress, anxiety and sleep difficulties, which have a negative impact on their academic performance. Some post secondary institutions or faculties can be more high stress than others, and the competitiveness of the learning culture is one factor in the differences. One could argue that learning healthy choices in the face of a high stress environment is good preparation for one’s future career and life success.
- From society’s perspective, influencing post secondary students to develop positive mental wellness habits and beliefs, and comfortable accessing help when needed has a great return on investment over and above the improvement in academic performance.
- It is an investment in future parents; employers and employees; educators and health providers and other helping professions, neighbours and citizens, throughout their lives – so it pays off over and over.
- Post secondary campuses are a community, where students, faculty and staff engage in a shared space, with shared experiences.
- This setting enables the use of strategies that influence those shared experiences, and the development of positive relational skills, beliefs and attitudes through developmental stages.
- Student leader led initiatives have the additional benefit of helping Student Leaders and peer supporters to develop additional skills and experience.
- Student Leaders who conceive, plan and implement mental health and illness initiatives are developing important life and career skills over and above their improved awareness of mental health, mental illness and issues, and the importance of reducing stigma to their own wellbeing.