BUILDing Well-being

By Crystal Hutchinson, Health Promotion Specialist, Simon Fraser University

While attending Supporting Student Success research team’s (@CdnStdntSuccess) presentation on “Principles for Creating Student Focused Postsecondary Organizations” at CACUSS this summer, I was thrilled to see physical space emerge as a key area influencing organizational culture in higher education. My excitement was due to my role at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where I lead the Well-being through Physical Spaces project on behalf of the Health Promotion team (@SFUhealth_promo). This project aims to improve the well-being of SFU students by enhancing the physical campus environment. There is a growing body of literature that demonstrates a connection between built environments and mental, social and physical health. As a result, physical environments within higher education settings present a strategic opportunity for us to impact student learning, engagement and well-being.


SFU’s focus on well-being through physical spaces is innovative and leading within Canada. Although it was developed prior to the release of the WELL Building Standard (Delos Living LLC, 2015), it similarly focuses on considering psychosocial well-being in the design of built environments. Physical Spaces is one of six areas for action to impact student well-being in SFU’s Healthy Campus Community initiative which is informed by health promotion theory (World Health Organization, 2010; Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, 1986). The project also aligns with the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015) that identifies creating supportive campus environments and working cross-departmentally to enhance student well-being.

About the Well-being through Physical Spaces Project

The Well-being through Physical Spaces Project was developed in 2013 through a literature review that indicated the quality of physical learning environments has a significant and measurable impact on student achievement, productivity, satisfaction and well-being (Earthman, 2002; Hill & Epps, 2010; Lippman, 2010; Whiteside, Brooks & Walker, 2010; Young, Green, Roehrich-Patrick, Joseph & Gibson, 2003). However, most research has been within corporate and health care sectors as well as in education at the elementary and secondary school level, suggesting that the interplay between the built environment, student well-being and learning within post-secondary settings is emergent. Data collected from focus groups and existing undergraduate surveys at SFU was also analyzed to inform the project and to explore how students perceived various physical spaces on campus in relation to their well-being.

SFU Health Promotion Physical Spaces Infographic_Page_1 Continue reading


3 Reflections on the George Brown Mental Health Conference

Last week I attended the 15th Annual George Brown College Mental Health Conference here in Toronto. The focus for this year’s conference was ‘Post-Secondary Student Success: Fostering Mental Health and Wellness on Campus’. The fact that the conference reached its maximum capacity speaks to just how important the area of student mental health has become. For a breakdown of the conference and some of the themes that were addressed I would encourage you to check out the conference hashtag on Twitter under #GBCMHC or read the Storify of my tweets from throughout the day. Here are three things from the conference that stood out to me.

1. Student Panel Discussion: Think about the ‘5 in 5’. It was quite refreshing to hear directly from students during a panel discussion. The panel featured two current students and two recent graduates who discussed some of their experiences with mental health difficulties and what could be done to create healthier campuses. One panel member noted the importance of institutions not simply focusing on the 1 in 5 people who experience a mental health or addiction issue. Focusing instead on the ‘5 in 5’, which stems from the Jack Project, means that each and every person needs to be aware of their mental well-being and institutions should keep this in mind when developing their mental health initiatives.

2. There is A LOT of work being done to address student mental health.Conferences are an opportunity to see what new initiatives and research projects are being done in the field you’re interested in. With this in mind, I often feel a bit like a kid on Christmas morning when I get a glimpse of new and exciting projects related to postsecondary student mental health. At the GBMHC, I heard about projects that addressed both peer mentoring and technology-based mental health information/support.

Peer Mentoring. In one session I attended called ‘Engaging Student Leadership: Putting Students at the Forefront’ I heard about the M² Peer Mentoring Program coming out of Queen’s University as a result of funding received through the Mental Health Innovation Fund. The purpose of this program is to match students who have mental health difficulties with a mentor who has gone through an intensive training program. There seems to be an increasing number of mentorship programs being established on campuses province-wide and this is likely due to research that suggests students are more likely to seek support from peers prior to seeking professional support. I think this highlights the importance of not only educating faculty and staff regarding student mental health difficulties but the student body as well. Each and every student should arguably have a certain amount of mental health literacy so that they are equipped to support a peer in a time of need and able to direct them to the appropriate services.

Provision of Mental Health Information/Support using Technology.  An emerging area in mental health relates to using technology to provide information or support related to mental health. Interestingly, an online student mental health portal called iCopeU was discussed and an online space called mindyourmind was mentioned. Presenters shared the success that these resources have had so far and emphasized that students have been co-designers in these projects. Some audience members seemed skeptical of the use of technology in addressing mental health, but I would argue that we have only started to scrape the surface of where this area can go in the postsecondary environment. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to check out the abovementioned programs and consider how your institution uses technology to provide information related to mental health or support for mental health difficulties to students.

3. Using a Whole-Setting Approach. The keynote speaker Jonny Morris (Director, Public Policy, Research, and Provincial Programs at the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C) discussed the Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses initiative and showcased a video called “Designing Healthy Campus Communities.” The video speaks to the importance of a whole-setting approach to mental health. Morris suggested that singular, one-off, individual focused responses to mental health done in isolation are not as impactful as whole-setting approaches. It is increasingly important that work is done collaboratively amongst various stakeholders in order to support student well-being and subsequently, student success.

– Kathleen

“I Think I CAN!”: The Power of a Growth Mind-set

There is an increasing focus on students’ mental health in Canada’s postsecondary institutions.  I applaud the work institutions like Queen’s University and York University are doing to remove the stigma from talking about mental health and mental illness.  Mental illness is a big domain, spanning anxiety to chronic depression to schizophrenia. I know our postsecondary institutions educate students across this domain but it seems that anxiety is the area that has received the most press recently.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t read about increasing anxiety levels in our high school and postsecondary student population.  All of this got me thinking about how anxiety likely undermines students’ interest in learning. If students are anxious about their future, they may be more likely to view their abilities as something they either have (or don’t have) as opposed to something they can develop through effort and persistence.

In her article, “Mind-sets and Equitable Education,” Dr. Carol Dweck suggests educators (and students) tend to view ability and intelligence in one of two ways: fixed mind-set OR growth mind-set

You’ve heard probably heard a student say, “I’m just not any good at math. It’s not my thing.” This is a textbook response from a student who holds a fixed mind-set. Contrast this statement with one from a student with a growth mind-set, “It takes a lot of practice and determination but I am confident I can learn the material.” The second student’s statement views learning as a journey not simply a destination.

This got me thinking about what we do as postsecondary educators to develop students’ growth mind-sets. As Dr. Dweck shares, how do we teach students that the brain is a muscle that can be trained in ways similar to training our other muscles? Just as our arms gain strength from doing push-ups, our brain grows stronger when it’s stretched, forming new connections between ideas.

One way to improve students’ mental health may be for educators to nurture students’ development of growth mind-sets through intentional messages suggested by Dr. Dweck like, “We value (and praise) taking on challenges, exerting effort, and surmounting obstacles more than we value (and praise) “natural” talent and easy success

By incorporating this and other growth mind-set messages into our work with students, perhaps students will begin to see learning as a journey rather than simply a place where one is pre-destined to arrive. And if we can see learning (like life) as a journey, then maybe the future will not feel so daunting.

I invite you to “leave a comment” sharing how you, your colleagues or your institution develop students’ growth mind-sets.

Submitted by Tricia Seifert