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Scoping Review of Current Literature on Post-Secondary Mental Health

In the grey and institutional literature, a number of themes for improving post-secondary student mental health emerge:

1. There is a need to create a mentally healthy environment for post-secondary students where they can maximize their ability to achieve their academic goals. It was clearly recognized that post-secondary institutions offer a pivotal environment in which to promote mental health and address student mental health needs, which are described as growing in both frequency and complexity.

2. Post-secondary student mental health is typically considered a provincial issue, rather than national problem. There is a lack of cohesion at the Pan-Canadian level and no national standard to guide the various mental health efforts occurring at provincial and institutional levels.

3. Within provinces, there is a lack of coordination between governments, institutions, student groups, and community mental health agencies with respect to mental health initiatives. Creating partnerships with community health and mental health services and supports to promote campus wellness and address student mental health needs is a priority for action.

4. An expanded definition of ‘mental health’ is needed; one that includes substance misuse and harm reduction approaches.

5. Post-secondary institutions need to adopt a whole-campus approach to mental health including a review and update of all health and mental health policies and institutional structures, financial assistance policies (e.g. for student loan payback) and mental health related accommodations.

6. Maintaining student centeredness in all activities was highlighted, including creating appropriate services for specialized groups (Indigenous, Immigrant, LGBTQ+, racialized, etc.) and understanding of the role of community belonging in promoting mentally healthy campuses.

7. There is a need for a comprehensive and coordinated mental health plan for post-secondary students that covers the range of services from prevention to treatment, including peer support counselling and a range of self-management options including telephone and on-line applications that can be accessed 24/7. In addition, suicide prevention and management strategies were identified as priority areas in a number of reports. This would include the provision of adequate and sustainable funding for student mental health initiatives.

8. There are a number of tools (e.g. institutional review frameworks, standardized courses, data bases, models of care etc.) that already exist; a few of which have been rigorously tested and validated but these have not been widely used. This suggests the need for a knowledge exchange plan whenever tools are developed to ensure their appropriate uptake. Most initiatives have not been rigorously evaluated.

9. Anti-stigma and mental health awareness and literacy programs are needed to promote early identification and improve help-seeking.

10. As part of an institutional response, all faculty and staff need to be trained to support early identification and appropriate referral of students with emerging or ongoing mental health problems. 8 11. Finally, ongoing monitoring, quality assurance assessment, and systematic evaluation activities are needed to ensure that programs and initiatives are evidence-based and effective. This included the need for Canadian data to monitor the mental health needs and help-seeking behaviours of post-secondary students.

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In Canada, an estimated 1.6 million children and youth have a diagnosed mental health challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious global economic and social impacts, and it continues to...