The Best Practices Network is pleased to announce that five post-secondary institutions have been awarded funding for student mental health-related projects through the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) Collaboration Grants provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Rossy Family Foundation.

See below for more information on each project.


Using Patient-Informed Research to Enhance Resilience Programming for Post-Secondary Students

Principal Investigator: Thannhauser, Jennifer

Co-Investigators: Neilson, Tessa; Dobson, Keith S; Nordstokke, David W; Szeto, Andrew

Abstract: There is increasing concern about the psychological health of post-secondary students. Post-secondary students are more likely to have a mental illness than the general population. Students are at greater risk due to the stress that arises from juggling a demanding academic schedule, as well as their social life, work, and extracurricular activities. Further, as mental health awareness grows, post-secondary counselling centres are faced with the challenge to identify creative and effective service options to meet the ever-growing number of students who seek support. Current research is limited with respect to the best practices in resiliency programming for post-secondary students. The Roots of Resiliency program was developed and piloted between 2014-2016 in response to the identified need to expand mental health programming for post-secondary students. In particular, this 8-week, multi-disciplinary program was developed to enhance general wellness and resilience for students self-identifying mild to moderate symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety. The experientially-based program draws on positive psychology and Hettler’s six dimensions of wellness. Results of the pilot study indicate significant improvements in Total Wellness, Resiliency, Anxiety, Depression, and HLQ (Holistic Lifestyle Questionnaire) Composite Scores. Based on these initial positive results, the current study will: 1) refine the Roots of Resiliency program through a patient-oriented research approach; 2) revise the Roots of Resiliency program, in collaboration with campus Indigenous community, to deliver a culturally-appropriate wellness program to Indigenous students; 3) deliver and evaluate these revised programs, and 4) develop a standardized manual for the program to serve as a model of best practice for mental health programming on post-secondary campuses.


McGill University

Peer versus Professional Video Outreach to Enhance Mental Health Resilience in University Students

Principal Investigator: Heath, Nancy L; Di Genova, Lina; Iyer, Srividya N; Lewis, Stephen P; Whitley, Rob

Co-Investigators: Burke, Charles E; Eon, Victoria; Gauthier, Martine; Golt, Ryan; Lee, Nicole; Mettler, Jessica; O’Brien, Norman; Romano, Vera; Zito, Stephanie

Abstract: Background: Stress and mental health (MH) difficulties in emerging adults are increasingly a problem on university campuses. New models of service delivery are being explored to address this, including peer support and outreach. While peer outreach aimed at raising awareness and challenging stigma has been effective, the extension of peer outreach to more strategy-based support has yet to be examined. Furthermore, the importance of including students with lived experience of MH difficulties in collaborative efforts in outreach is acknowledged by mental health professionals (MHP), however, how is this collaboration experienced by those engaged in the process? Finally, is peer or MHP-led outreach more effective in reaching students? The proposed project will address these important issues by: (1) exploring multiple stakeholders’ perspectives on the experience of collaborative co-creation of skills-building student outreach; (2) evaluating peer-led versus MHP-led online skills-building video outreach against a waitlist control group; and (3) evaluating relative reach of Mental Health Services versus peer sharing of outreach. Description: The project will have three phases. First, the team will co-create two video series (peer-led and MHP-led), after which team members’ views on this process will be examined. Phase 2, will compare students’ satisfaction and change in resilience indicators following the peer-led, the MHP-led, or a waitlist control condition. Finally, based on Phase 2 results, the most effective outreach will be shared through either universities’ Mental Health Services or peer organizations and relative use and student satisfaction compared. Impact: As a unique service user/provider/researcher collaboration to develop and critically evaluate the benefits of peer- versus MHP-led online outreach, this proposal will significantly contribute to our understanding and provision of online outreach to enhance university students’ MH resilience.


Memorial University of Newfoundland

Stepping up care: Responding to student need

Principal Investigator: Czarnuch, Stephen M; McKeough, Meaghan; Cornish, Peter

Co-Investigators: Krausz, Reinhard M; Nguyen, Van Hai; Rashid, Tayyab; Ricciardelli, Rose

Abstract: University and college counselling services are experiencing increases in the demands for mental health treatment among students. Students are wait-listed and often endure long intervals between sessions once in treatment. Typically, mental health treatment programs are based on in-person face-to-face sessions with a clinical specialist, despite the symptoms the client is demonstrating. This is an expensive way of getting help that is not always necessary for all clients. However, there are currently few if any alternatives. We propose lower intensity, less expensive and more accessible care that could address student mental health concerns before they become acute or chronic. This is an intervention that also respond to the fact that youth live online more so now than seen in any other generation. Stepped care is a newer model of treatment that offers the lowest level of intervention, determined by both an initial and ongoing assessments. Treatment intensity can be either stepped up or down depending on the level of patient need. In recent attempts to adapt the stepped care model to support mental health at Memorial University, we recognized that the model requires a mental health specialist to coordinate activities, meet periodically with the patient to refine goals and either “step up” or “step down” the model. The overall objective of our project is to re-centre the stepped care model currently implemented at Memorial University on the patient, supported by a diverse, multidisciplinary team including the patients, providers, researchers and decision makers, including an adaptation to a fully-accessible online model. Part of this work will involve moving the model to an online platform that will allow patients and clinicians to access information whenever they like. Our project addresses the needs of a variety of patient advocacy groups (e.g., MUNMinds; CHANNAL) and policy-makers, reducing barriers to access, including wait times and service fragmentation.


Queen's University (Kingston, Ontario)

Flourish student mental health research: Pathways to mental health and academic outcomes in undergraduate university students

Principal Investigator: Duffy, Anne C; Bowie, Christopher R

Co-Investigators: Foran, Hannah M; Heffer, Naomi R; Rivera, Daniel C; Cunningham, Simone; Goodday, Sarah M; Harkness, Kate L; King, Nathan; McNevin, Stephen H; Milanovic, Melissa; Morra, Alexandra A; Pickett, William; Saunders, Kate

Abstract: Mental health and well-being are strongly associated with academic success in university students. The increasing need for mental health services in the wake of recent student suicides has overwhelmed resources and has been described as a mental health crisis on campuses. Yet, there is little evidence to inform universities as to specifically what mental health support services are needed and for whom and how best to deliver these services. An important next step towards answering these questions is to understand the pathways leading from risk and protective factors to different mental health and academic outcomes. To address this question, we leverage an existing collaboration and past experience in student survey studies, and propose a longitudinal study of students over the critical first year of study at either Queen’s or Oxford universities. Through an electronic survey sent via university email to each first year student in the first semester, we will evaluate important risk and protective factors across family, person and environment domains. We will also assess important influential variables such as lifestyle and attitudes. At the end of term, students will complete a follow-up survey asking about academic outcomes, mental health and the use and effectiveness of mental health support services. Findings will inform the development of resiliency building and mental illness prevention initiatives for the undergraduate student population, and the development of early intervention mental health services for targeted high-risk or help-seeking subgroups. Broader implications of this work include understanding mechanisms of resilience, mitigating morbidity and mortality related to emergent mental illness, and determining multi-level contributors to academic success. This research project will form a platform for the development of a national student mental health research program with international links.


University of Toronto

Improving the role functioning and resiliency of university students experiencing mental health problems using an enhanced supported education intervention

Principal Investigator: Nalder, Emily J; Robb, Janine C; Kirsh, Bonnie

Co-Investigators: Farrow, Susan; McKendry, Simon; Yaeck, Amanda; Linkewich, Elizabeth; Polatajko, Helene J; Stier, Jill; Wang, Rosalie H; Yuen, Sandra A

Abstract: Up to 50% of university students experience mental health problems affecting their ability to manage the everyday activities they need or want to do. For instance, many students describe doing poorly on exams, and being unable to retain information despite hours of studying. These experiences can further exacerbate experiences of anxiety, stress or depression, and place individuals at risk of failing and/or dropping out of university. We are a team of researchers, university students with lived experience of mental illness, health professionals and policy makers, and we propose to examine the feasibility of an enhanced Supported Education intervention, that will help students to be successful in their university and life goals. The intervention sessions will focus on helping students to problem-solve difficulties in their daily life when and where they occur. Participants will learn to use a meta-cognitive strategy (Goal-Plan-Do-Check) to set goals and develop plans for developing skills in areas they perceive are important. We have students involved in our research team and in a steering committee where they can providing guidance to the researchers. This ensures that their lived experiences can shape our research directions, and also service delivery at the University of Toronto through our research. We are collaborating with the University of Toronto Health and Wellness Centre so that the Supported Education intervention can continue to be offered to students if it is proven effective.