The first frame is what do we actually mean when we say ‘post-secondary students’ positive mental health and health-enabling environments’. There are a variety of definitions of positive mental health – from the World Health Organization, Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Mental Health Commission of Canada and others. Examining them closely, highlights the variations:

  • Some focus on the subjective or internal feelings of the person,
  • Others see positive health as a resource for achieving one’s goals in life and so focus on capabilities, positive functioning or other such terms,
  • Some include the importance of the person’s environments (e.g. peace, social justice, equity etc.),
  • Others treat ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’ as only a function of a person’s internal states,
  • Some include an aspiration that health can be more than ‘good enough’ and that mental health includes achieving one’s potential.

The toolkit is based on a framework that embraces variability and includes the five aspects of positive mental health included in definitions (subjective and objective aspects, health as a resource, engagement with one’s environment and an ecological view as well as the possibility of ‘beyond good enough’).

It also incorporates the understanding that mental health is not so much a state as it is a set of processes, a set of “developmental journeys with many ingredients”. Each person will encounter different challenges and life events, each of which influences them in the moment, and long term – thus the wide range of variability we see in people.

Why does it matter to be clear about what we actually mean when we say ‘post-secondary students’ positive mental health and health-enabling environments’? Because when one wants to be purposeful, theory-and evidence-based about health promoting strategies, it is important to be clear what the desired outcome involves. Only in this way can one then be clear about the causal web of factors and actions that will lead to the desired outcome, as well as identify relevant and reliable leading and lagging indicators of progress. Also in this case, where it is clear that the outcome of positive mental health cannot be created by any one professional or organization, understanding the five aspects helps to identify different contributions from the collective of professionals and organizations. While each professional’s and/or organization’s contribution might be different, it helps to understand how they work together to create the desired outcome.

It is also important to ensure that health promoting / capacity building strategies are sufficiently diverse to match the characteristics within the student body.