Post-Secondary Students and Mental Health

Student life is a time of change, uncertainty, and challenges. Many post-secondary students are living away from home for the first time and are learning to balance very busy academic schedules with managing finances, building their social circles, and figuring out their interests and future careers. The stress of post-secondary education is felt by all students at some point, and it can be overwhelming for some.

When the National College Health Assessment surveyed Canadian students in 2019, they found that students’ academic performance of was adversely affected by stress (42%), anxiety (35%), sleep difficulties (29%) and depression (24%) within the past 12 months. This same study found that 16% of students had seriously considered suicide over the prior year at least one time.[1] People in their late teens and early 20s are also at the highest risk of all age groups for mental illness; in these years, first episodes of psychiatric disorders like major depression are most likely to appear.[2]

Post-secondary institutions are taking these statistics seriously and working to address students’ mental health and find ways to better support them. Everyone has a role to play. As faculty and staff have frequent contact with students, we are often in a position to recognize when a student may be struggling. Responding with empathy and knowing how to connect a student to campus services and resources such as counselling services can be critical factors in supporting a student in distress.

This training is an introduction to what we can all do to support students’ mental health and well-being. The presentation starts with a discussion of mental health and wellness and looks at ways to promote resilience. The training then provides advice on how to recognize and respond to a student in distress and how to refer students to the other supports.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students from Distress to Suicide. © Vancouver Island University. Adapted by Barbara Johnston. CC BY 4.0 license.

  1. American College Health Association. (2019). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Canadian Reference Group executive summary Spring 2019. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association.
  2. Queen’s University. (2012). Report of the principal’s commission on mental health.


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Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Wellness by Gemma Armstrong; Michelle Daoust; Ycha Gil; Albert Seinen; Faye Shedletzky; Jewell Gillies; Barbara Johnston; and Liz Warwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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