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Working Definition of Mental Health

Mental health can be defined as: “The capacities of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections, and personal dignity” (Government of Canada, 2006).

This definition of mental health is aligned with concepts of mental health identified by the World Health Organization (2001) as well as Corey Keyes (2002) description of ‘flourishing.’ Keyes conceptualizes health and illness as separate continuums wherein a student with mental illness may flourish and conversely, someone without mental illness may languish with less than optimal health

Underlying Premises

This guide is designed as a resource to support the creation of campus communities that are deeply conducive to transformative learning and mental well-being through a Systemic Approach to student mental health in colleges and universities in Canada. It provides a Inventory to support campus self-assessment, strategic goal setting, and the identification of options for change that can be used to inform planning and evaluation. It is recognized that each post-secondary institution has unique strengths, circumstances, and needs. Therefore, while the broad areas for strategy development identified in this guide are relevant for all institutions, more specific strategies within each category need to be developed by each individual institution. This enables each institution to develop strategies that consider its own uniqueness and context. Even though the approach outlined in this guide is targeted at whole institutions, these ideas can also be used by students, staff, and faculty for individual units or departments within institutions. While the focus of this Inventory is on student mental health, this in no way minimizes the need to address the broader scope of health, recovery and well-being on campuses, inclusive of faculty, staff and students. It is also recognized that the mental health and well-being of a student’s family, friends, and community members, organizations and institutions of employment, and general socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions have an impact on a student’s mental well-being. However, this Inventory does not focus directly on improving the mental health of staff, faculty and students’ personal networks, nor does it provide guidance on addressing conditions ‘outside’ post-secondary institutions.


“Empowering students to participate actively in maintaining their well-being as well as addressing mental health issues sets the foundation for increased ability to sustain wellbeing throughout their lives.”

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