So What? How does this influence your Strategy?
You may choose to frame your strategy around mental wellness rather than mental illness. That would mean that you are concerned with how all students build mental wellness whether or not they are starting from a place of having symptoms of mental illness or issues. Those with mental illness or issues can build mental wellness / resilience in associating with their illness (as Keyes describes Flourishing). Those who have no such symptoms can build their mental wellness / resilience to manage and learn from their experience of stress and distressing emotional situations.
Seen from the lens of understanding mental wellness, it may be more obvious why improving self-awareness and developing conscious and productive habits and attitudes is so important for all post-secondary students – it isn’t just to survive the years of post-secondary education. It also applies to people who may have a mental illness or disorder of some kind – as the Keyes’ model describes and the Recovery model practices. As we advance through our careers and our lives in our families and as citizens we need to know how to develop more higher order skills. Our success depends on our ability to learn from experience how to cope more and more successfully with more and more ambiguity, how to resolve more and more complex problems and how to create highly productive relationships in more diverse and complex group dynamics influences our success throughout our lives – at work, in our families, and as citizens. This means the activities in your Strategy need to pay off in the long term – not just help students to survive their years of post-secondary education. Understanding this may help you to advocate for policy changes in your institution to make it a more mentally healthy campus.
Understanding mental wellness can also help you advocate for resources to undertake activities related to building mental wellness as well as treating or preventing mental illness, addictions and mental issues. If you need some ammunition, it may help to tell administrators and governors that these are skills and characteristics that also are increasingly valued in the workplace as enabling skills. You can also point out that activities that help students learn how to improve their mental health capabilities will also help them do better at academics. For faculty and staff, it helps students create (and benefit from) more effective, more inclusive and happier workplaces.
If you want to include improving mental wellness in your Strategy, it will largely be about helping students develop more self-awareness and how to learn from their own experience, not just supply solutions that you see as generally applicable. For example, physical activity may be shown to influence mental wellness, but just providing physical activities does not help students to make a conscious connection to their mental wellness, and assess it for themselves.
You can include activities that help students to recognize what is normal, and the difference between mild, moderate and severe levels of stress, anxiety, and other emotions. Understanding these, and the most helpful ways to take action when they are concerned about themselves or others and learn from their experience are the basis for developing increasing levels of mental wellness. Because it is critical for each of us to understand ourselves and how we learn, it is important to help students to understand why they take what actions and how to assess whether those are working for them, not just to supply solutions.
There is lots of information to help you think about what strategies you want to use, and to know what to look for to know you’re making progress, depending on what outcomes you want to achieve with your activities.
Additional background briefs provide more information:
- It’s usual for humans to… gives a quick overview of stress, grief, fear and other expected human emotions as well as brain development and plasticity through life.
- Understanding Mental illness, addictions and mental issues gives a quick overview of the range of conditions included within these terms, the environmental factors that can influence them, as well as the illness- or recovery-oriented approach to supporting people who experience such conditions.
You can use the reference list as a starting point for exploring the topics more broadly if you want further information.
Remember that the ACMHI strategy understands this within the frame of a Mentally Healthy Campus. It also helps to understand why systemic factors matter more than individual willpower and behaviour, as well as recognizing normal human experiences and brain development in the context of mental wellness and illness. What is a Mentally Healthy Campus? provides additional background.
Another resource is the Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. It recognizes a ‘whole system’ approach such as the Mentally Healthy Campus approach, though broadened to include physical dimensions of wellness. The 2015 International Conference produced the Okanagan Charter, setting out a set of interdependent strategies.