Education and training are essential elements of a comprehensive student mental health framework that supports University members so that they can effectively and compassionately respond to students in distress. Best practices in mental health education and training foster a community that is aware, knowledgeable and skilled, building the community’s capacity to respond in a consistent manner. Effective mental health education and training supports anti-stigma efforts. A supportive campus environment requires all community members to recognize their responsibility to others as well as themselves. Raising mental health awareness and literacy helps encourage community members’ commitment to take action to promote student mental health at the campus level as well as to care for themselves and others. (CACUSS, 2013)
“Health literacy is defined as the knowledge and skill needed to acquire, comprehend, and apply health information” (Kelly, Jorm, & Wright, 2007). Low health literacy is linked to less frequent use of preventive strategies, an increase in the use of hospital and emergency services, and poorer health outcomes (Berkman, Sheridan, Donahue, Halpern, & Crotty, 2011). Those who understand mental health problems and possess the requisite knowledge and skills evidence fewer stigmatizing attitudes (Romer & Bock, 2008) and are more likely to seek help (Kelly et al., 2007; Vanheusden, van der Ende, Mulde, van Lenthe, Verhulst, & Mackenbach, 2009). Improving mental health literacy during the early adult years remains an important component of a broader health information strategy (Gulliver et al., 2010; Kelly et al., 2007)” (Cunningham, Walker, Eastwood, Westra, Rimas, Chen, Marcus, Swinson, Bracken, K., & The Mobilizing Minds Research Group, 2014, p. 414-415).
Feedback from the student mental health focus groups identified a number of issues, such as stigma and a lack of knowledge about mental health and illness, which affect students’ willingness to seek support at the earliest possible time. There is a need for greater emphasis on developing positive mental health programming that contributes to building a resilient student community. Students affirmed that mental health services and programs are highly valued, highlighting the importance of receiving the most appropriate help through the most appropriate services at the most appropriate time.
Recommendations to enhance the mental health literacy of students, staff and faculty fall into four key areas:
education and information about mental health resources available on campus, how to access those resources and what to expect from them;
education and information that help students understand the continuum of mental health and how to recognize when they should seek help for a mental health issue;
- education and training for staff and faculty on academic accommodation and other supports for students who may be struggling with a mental health issue; and
- education and information that reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Mental health awareness initiatives should strive to improve students’ mental well-being by increasing knowledge and understanding of the determinants, nature, impact, prevention and management of mental health issues. Increased knowledge and understanding builds resilience and capacity to maintain well-being. For example, resilience factors such as awareness of signs of stress, knowledge of coping strategies and belief in the ability to cope have been found to be associated with decreased symptoms of depression among university students (Sawatsky et al., 2010). Increased mental health awareness also plays an important role in the de-stigmatization of mental health issues (CACUSS, 2013).
Importantly, experts in this area argue that psychological resilience is something that can be developed in individuals, and that the post-secondary setting provides a unique opportunity and context in which to do so. “The raw material of resilience is intellect, physical robustness and emotional stability. How these interact with the surrounding network, culture and practical situations determines the level of resilience based on external support (family, partners, friends, teachers etc.), internal support (abilities and skills and learning to develop them) and existential support (meaning, values and faith)” (Caruana, 2010, P. 3).
- Develop and implement ongoing, sustainable student mental health education programming, which includes a focus on positive mental health and is designed to meet the specific needs of our diverse student populations. This programming is based on best practices and focused on developing psychological resilience, personal skill development (including self-care practices) and de-stigmatizing mental health problems.
- As a community, promote help-seeking as a positive strategy for personal, academic and career success by establishing initiatives (e.g., communication strategies) that encourage help-seeking by students, especially for those who may be at higher risk.
- Create a “roadmap” to facilitate student navigation of services and programs that begins with enhanced programming at orientation and continues throughout the academic year, delivering education and information to the University community, including staff, faculty and students.
- Develop communication tools and systems that students find credible and relevant (e.g., messages embedded in faculty communication to students, such as course syllabi, and easy-to-navigate content on the institutional website).