Mental Health Commission of Canada announces post-secondary mental health standard

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) recently announced a collaboration with the Canadian Standards Association to develop a standard for the psychological health and safety of post-secondary students. According to the Commission’s website, post-secondary educational institutions are free to adopt and modify the policy, known as the Post-Secondary Students (PSS) Standard, as needed. 

The standard aims to provide guidelines to help Canadian schools support their students’ mental health. The policy identifies factors that challenge students’ mental health and provides resources to help address each of these problems. The current draft of the plan advocates for increasing the amount of psychological support and counselling available to students, educating staff to create a supportive community, and assigning a manageable course load.

Amy Fogarty, MHCC manager of programs and priorities, emphasized that the PSS standard is student-centric. 

“[After championing the] Canadian National Workplace Standard in 2013, an opportunity emerged to support students,” Fogarty said. “[T]he MHCC was approached by funders and leaders to champion this work and fill this gap. Through the creation of the standard, the MHCC is committed to supporting student success and mental wellbeing on campus.”

Fogarty highlighted how the draft is flexible and easy to implement for institutions.

“[The PSS standard] acknowledges that each framework for psychological health and safety will be unique, based on the specific needs of the student body and taking into consideration the unique circumstances and resources of the specific campus community and the external community,” Fogarty said. “The draft [PSS] standard offers an audit tool to assist post-secondary institutions in conducting their own review.”

Executive Director of Student Services Martine Gauthier explained that McGill was already very familiar with the new standard.

“We are actively collaborating with the MHCC to assist with their efforts.” Gauthier said. “McGill is a part of the Best Practices Network (BP-Net), along with Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, and this group is working with the MHCC to inform the development of the standard. We conducted consultations last winter to help collect data for the MHCC, reaching approximately 26,500 individuals. We [even] posted a summary of key take-aways on our website last summer.”

However, Gauthier is not yet certain if McGill will be able to actually commit to following the standard.

“When the [PSS] Standard is released next year, we will be in a better position to evaluate its recommendations and how to adapt them to the McGill context,” Gauthier said.

Julia Caddy, U2 Arts and co-president of the McGill chapter of jack.org, a club promoting mental health education, and expressed excitement about the new standard. She urged McGill to commit to following its recommendations.

“I think a lot of the things [that McGill is doing] are guided in the right direction [.…] Where the standard comes in is that we [already] have mental health services, but really improving student’s mental health involves a system-wide approach,” Caddy said. “You can’t just focus on your mental health professionals. You have to look at how you are training your professors, and how you are regulating your assessment methods […] beyond just [saying] ‘What do we do when [students] are struggling?’” 

Caddy acknowledges the increased awareness of mental health due to initiatives such as Bell Let’s Talk, but believes that institutions must develop better policies to meet their students’ needs. She stressed the importance of keeping accessibility in mind when developing new programs. 

“[We need to make] sure that whatever programs we are implementing are […] accessible [to] everyone,” Caddy said. “A successful mental health plan needs to be able to meet everyone where they are at.”

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