Supporting Student Mental Health in the Classroom – Kristin Brown

Student behind a pile of text books.
Image used under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

Student mental health is an issue that is close to my heart. During my graduate studies, I co-founded Stand Up to Stigma, a student-led mental health initiative on campus partnered with Counselling Services and Health Services. I also created a CTE workshop regarding how instructors and TAs can support student mental health. I wrote a similar post to this one more than two years ago, but given the recent creation of the University of Waterloo’s President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health and Mental Health Wellness Day this week, I think it’s time to revisit it. Student mental health has been on the minds of many instructors and TAs; this blog post provides some of the resources available to help students in distress and promote mental well-being in the classroom.

 What’s the issue?

A recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2016) highlights the current issues University of Waterloo (n=1,955) and Ontario post-secondary students (n=25,168) are facing with respect to mental health.

Within the past year, percentage of
post-secondary students who had…
University of Waterloo Ontario
Felt academics were traumatic or very difficult to handle 58% 59.3%
Felt overwhelming anxiety 60.8% 65.4%
Felt so depressed that it was difficult to function 44.5% 46.1%
Been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety 14.2% 18.3%
Been diagnosed or treated by a professional for depression 11.4% 14.7%
Seriously considered suicide 5.0% 4.4%

The link between mental health and learning

Mental health problems are negatively associated with several learning outcomes, including lower GPAs and an increased chance of withdrawal from academic programs (Eisenberg et al., 2009; Hysenbegasi et al., 2005). Several sources have advocated for a campus-wide approach to mental health, which posits that all members of post-secondary institutions (e.g., administrators, faculty, and staff) should play a role in student mental health instead of counselling services only (Kitzrow, 2003).

What mental health support resources are available for Waterloo students?

  • Counselling Services: offer individual and group counselling, workshops (e.g., stress management, mindfulness, coping skills), and support in emergency situations
  • Health Services: provide medical doctors, psychiatric services, in addition to support in emergency situations
  • AccessAbility Services: academic accommodation for students (students must have documentation from registered health professionals to access services)
  • MATES Peer Support program: peer support offered by Counselling Services and the Federation of Students (FEDS)
  • Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454): free, confidential, and anonymous helpline for any post-secondary student in Ontario; available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247): connection to addiction, mental health, and crisis services at 12 agencies in Waterloo and Wellington counties

How can faculty/staff support student mental health?

  • Counselling Services offers mental health training on campus; additionally, the Council of Ontario Universities has developed a free online mental health education program, More Feet on the Ground, which has been adapted for Waterloo.
  • Queen’s University and Western University have excellent resources for staff and faculty that highlight common signs of distress, how to talk to a student in distress, and how to make referrals to support services.
  • The Council of Ontario Universities has developed a series of videos that explain the issue of mental health in the post-secondary population, how to support students in distress, and the role of the university community in supporting student mental health.

How can I incorporate mental well-being into my classroom?


American College Health Association. (2016). University of Waterloo Executive Summary Spring 2016: American College Health Association
National College Health Assessment II.

Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1).

Hysenbegasi, A., Hass, S. L., & Rowland, C. R. (2005). The impact of depression on the academic productivity of university students. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 8(3), 145.

Kitzrow, M. A. (2003). The Mental Health Needs of Today’s College Students: Challenges and Recommendations. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice: 41(1): 167-181. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1310


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Kristin Brown

Kristin is the Educational Research Associate at the Centre for Teaching Excellence. She completed her PhD in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. She previously worked at CTE as a Graduate Instructional Developer and Research Assistant.

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