Supporting student mental health in higher education calls for the mobilization of all college and university staff. Supporting student mental health in higher education calls for the mobilization of all college and university staff. It’s a shared responsibility that falls equally on management, teaching staff, student associations, intervention professionals and others who interact with this population. Here are two principles to guide actions in support of student mental health in higher education.

Taking Systems and the Environment Into Account : The Ecological Approach

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach has been used extensively to support the development of health promotion initiatives. This theory suggests that health is the result of the interaction between an individual and the various systems that make up their environment.

Within each of these systems, we can identify health determinants, which are personal, social, environmental and economic factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of health disorders developing. Knowledge of these elements enables us to define the relevant fields of action for improving the health of populations from a promotion and prevention perspective.

Image representing the levels of the ecological approach: 1- society, 2- intitution and community, 3- interpersonal relations and 4- individual.

In 2024, the Service Promotion de la santé mentale positive en milieux éducatifs of the Direction régionale de santé publique du CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal produced a document identifying the factors influencing student mental health in higher education. Consistent with the ecological approach described above, these factors are interrelated and occur at different levels, from the global context (society) to the student (individual). According to this vision, a student’s mental health is therefore influenced by their study environment, and the actions to support it must be guided by this desire to act on several influencing factor specific to the student mental health. Here are just a few examples from this document (non-exhaustive list).


Factors that acts upon the population as a whole and may have decision-making power in the directions taken to promote mental health  Ex.:

  • Education system
  • Economic context
  • Cultural and social context
  • Etc.


Factor in the higher education community with power/influence on mental health-friendly environments in higher education institutions. Ex.:

  • Organizational structure and conditions
  • Learning environment
  • Physical environment
  • Etc.

Interpersonal relationships

A person/group in the living environment who interacts directly with the student or who is likely to offer support (e.g., family, friends, colleagues, teaching staff, student assistance services).


Factors related to the student. For example

  • Individual characteristics
  • Student’s profession
  • Lifestyle and behavior
  • Etc.

Applying the Equity Principle to Student Mental Health

In the general population, there is an intersectionality between social inequity and mental health. For example, people living with a mental health disorder generally experience other inequities simultaneously (e.g., poverty, social exclusion, stigma), and conversely, people experiencing inequities are more likely to develop a mental health disorder.

This is also true in study environments for students with specific profiles, such as people from the LGBTQ+ community, First Nations people, visible minorities and so on.  These students are more likely to see their mental health weakened by the context of inequity, feelings of insecurity or social exclusion they face in their study environment. Particular attention must therefore be paid to the specific needs of these people when implementing various measures to support student mental health.


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Association canadienne des services aux étudiants collégiaux et universitaires. The Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach
Association canadienne pour la santé mentale – division Ontario (2017) Promouvoir l’équité en Ontario. Comprendre les concepts-clés.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1981) The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design
Centre d’innovation en santé mentale sur les campus. Équité, diversité & inclusion: une trousse d’outils pour les campus postsecondaires.
Centre RBC d’expertise universitaire en santé mentale (2020)  Cultivating kindness. Catalogues des initiatives et des pratiques inspirantes.
Commission de la santé mentale du Canada (2020) La Norme pour les étudiants du postsecondaire
Direction régionale de santé publique du CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (2024) Outil synthèse: les facteurs d’influence de la santé mentale étudiante, des leviers pour agir!

Institut national de santé publique du Québec (2017) Synthèse des connaissances sur les champs d’action pertinents en promotion de la santé mentale chez les jeunes adultes
Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur (2021) Plan d’action sur la santé mentale étudiante en enseignement supérieur 2021-2026
Observatoire sur la réussite en enseignement supérieur (2023) Équité, diversité et inclusion : au coeur de la réussite étudiante

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