Mental health services are a critical part of a systemic approach to supporting campus mental health. Numerous studies have found that they have a positive impact on student retention (Frank & Kirk, 1975; Illovsky, 1997; Porter, 2011; Turner & Berry, 2000; Wilson, et al 1997). They are uniquely placed to contribute to a systemic approach on multiple levels. They provide a range of services to support campus members through mental health difficulties and the recovery process, as well as specialized programs to meet the need of specific student populations. Mental health services provide direct support to faculties through consultation regarding specific student concerns and issues arising from unique demands of the academic program. Mental health care professionals also serve institutional goals and objectives by contributing their expertise and experience with the student population to strategic planning processes focused on learning and well-being.

A number of factors have an impact on how effectively campus mental health services can serve the campus and its members. Accessibility is a key factor in this regard. Findings of the Documenting Effective Educational Practices (DEEP) project point to the importance of providing resources “to those who need them when they need them and create[ing] conditions that encourage students to take advantage of them” (p. 57, Kuh,, 2005). Other important factors include the nature and effectiveness of services, connections with other services on and off campus, collaboration with faculties and student groups, professional qualifications and program evaluation. Specifically, mental health services are best placed to support the campus population when they offer services and programs that are:

  • Grounded in strengths-based and recovery principles.
  • Committed to evidence-based practice across all aspects of mental health service delivery and compliant with established professional standards and qualifications for mental health care providers.
  • Sensitive and responsive to the diverse, changing needs and perspectives of students and employees.
  • Timely in consultation to administration, faculty, and staff regarding specific student concerns as well as unique needs arising from an academic program.
  • Streamlined and coordinated across counselling, medical, and psychiatric services to ensure that members have ready and timely access to programs and the appropriate level of care depending on nature and severity of presenting concerns.
  • Streamlined in referral processes between mental health services and other campus resources and offices (e.g. academic advising, accessibility services, student advocacy, student conduct, etc.).
  • Strongly linked to resources in the community for members requiring specialized care that is not available within campus mental health services.
  • Effective in liaison with local hospitals to ensure coordinated discharge planning for students who have been hospitalized.


  • An ongoing open therapy group that is available to support students throughout the year.
  • Peer support provided by trained and supervised students with lived experience (e.g. support groups, individual peer support).
  • Wellness coaching program providing individualized support in goal setting and self- management skills development.
  • A shared care and systems approach to the treatment of depression including routine screening by physicians and counsellors, assessment and referral to the appropriate level of treatment (self-management skill development, group program, individual counselling, medications).
  • Inter-disciplinary team of mental health care providers (counselor, family physician, psychiatrist, etc.) collaborating with students experiencing serious ongoing mental health issues.
  • Intake assessment and triage processes that provide timely access to initial assessment and referral to mental health services on and off campus.
  • Substance use-related brief intervention and – as further needed – more extended cognitive and behavioral skills therapy, in individual and group formats akin to the well-attested BASICS program (Dimeff et al., 1999).

Key Considerations

  • Are pathways through mental health help seeking processes clearly understood by campus members, starting with service providers?
  • Are there multiple types and levels of support that can be self-directed, student-optimized and individualized?
  • Are staff in counselling and medical centers trained in practices consistent with strength based approaches, recovery, and well-being?
  • To what degree do mental health care providers consider the whole person including socio-economic factors, physical health, spirituality, personal supports, and community in addressing campus members’ mental health concerns?
  • Are staff in counselling and medical centers (care providers and support personnel) adequately trained to be sensitively responsive to and work effectively with the broad range of diversity within post-secondary student populations?
  • Are mental health services grounded in the current needs and choices of campus members? (e.g. through feedback from surveys or student advisory groups).
  • Are campus mental health services clearly defined regarding the types of issues and degree of severity of the symptoms that can be addressed within campus services?
  • To what extent do counselling and medical services function as a seamless, continuum of care irrespective of how they are structured within the organization?
  • To what degree are campus services congruent with community services in terms of philosophy, design, and evaluation? Is there a good relationship between campus, peer-run and community services and initiatives?
  • What program evaluation is conducted to measure the quality and effectiveness as well as campus member satisfaction with mental health service delivery?

Key Resources

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