The concept of well-being on college campuses has been the topic of much attention in recent years. Increasingly, schools have dedicated time, resources, and attention to efforts designed to increase the well-being of community members. Integrating wellness into campus life, creating policies to support student well-being, collecting data around the topic, and allocating funding and space for wellness-based programs are just a few ways that schools have embarked on the challenge of creating “well” communities.
As schools in the United States strive for greatness in their wellness efforts, much can be learned from our colleagues around the world. Colleges, communities, and government entities in Canada, Australia, and the U.K have been making great strides towards increasing the collective well-being of their communities. Below, I’ve highlighted some remarkable efforts that can serve as inspiration for those seeking to create “well” institutions.
The Okanagan Charter:
Most well-informed health promotion professionals are, by now, aware of the Okanagan Charter – an international charter for health promoting colleges and universities. Named for the territory in which is was developed–Okanagan Nation–the charter outlines a shared aspiration for health in person, place, and planet. The charter features two primary calls to action for institutions: embedding health across the entire campus culture (administration, operations, and academics); and leading health promotion both locally and globally. A must-read for anyone attempting to increase the collective well-being of their communities, the charter provides readers with specific action items to guide them in their efforts. The charter has been widely adopted by universities in both Canada and the United Kingdom, who have created formalized networks to support them in their efforts.
The Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health is a partnership between several key stakeholders in Ontario, whose mission is to “help Ontario’s colleges and universities enhance their capacity to support student mental health and well-being”. The centre provides opportunities for knowledge sharing, resources, toolkits, and a database where campuses can share initiatives that have been successful.
The Healthy Campus Initiative at George Brown College is a whole-campus effort that seeks to foster mental health and well-being for the college’s students, faculty, and staff. The initiative has three key pillars: supporting students, supporting staff, and supporting staff in their efforts to support students. Some of the many efforts at George Brown have included a faculty needs assessment to measure deficits and strengths in their ability to support students; a “foundations for flourishing” workshop; and a universal design approach to student learning. Additionally, they’ve created a faculty video hub where faculty members show videos of their best practice approaches to supporting student well-being.
Other Toronto institutions are engaging in similar efforts related to student well-being. As outlined in a 2016 Torontoist article, schools are stepping up to support student wellness in a variety of ways. York University, for instance, released a mental health strategy for it’s students, designed to enhance institutionalized support and reduce stigma around mental health issues.
Taking the concept of “college” to a new level, “Mind Recovery Colleges” have begun to emerge throughout Australia. With courses taught by those who have experienced mental health challenges, as well as those certified in psychology, Mind Recovery Colleges focus on empowering students with the skills necessary to achieve mental well-being.
Additionally, beginning as early as elementary school, Australian schools have started to integrate wellbeing into their curriculum. Both public and private schools have taken the task to heart, and in 2017 it was reported that all public schools in New South Wales were required to have a planned public approach to well-being. Efforts include measuring student well-being, developing and implementing strategies to reduce student anxiety, and hiring staff with a specific focus in well-being. By beginning to focus on well-being in early childhood, New South Wales is taking steps towards creating healthier students and communities that will ultimately benefit institutions of higher education.
In the United Kingdom, a legislative focus on mental health and well-being has brought with it an increase in data collection, resources, and policy. In 2017, the National Union of Students supported a large-scale mental health study to assess the health and well-being of nearly 200,000 students.
Additionally, the National Health Service has proposed a plan to “create a system of primary care for mental health that is on par with the physical health care system”. The system is bracing to treat an extra 1 million patients each year, in the hopes of reducing instances of suicide and increasing overall mental wellness.
Elsewhere, entire communities are making efforts to increase compassion, connection, and wellness. The town of Frome, located in Somerset, England, has launched what they refer to as the “Compassionate Frome Project”, with a goal of building a more compassionate community. This endeavor, started in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a local doctor, and backed by the town’s government, aimed to reduce the silos that agencies and individuals often work in, and increase community-wide connection. By setting up a directory of local agencies and services, Kingston and her team were able to recognize and fill the areas where potential resource gaps existed. Taking this one step further, they employed “health connectors” responsible for connecting individuals to resources, and trained “community connectors” – community members who learned how to support other community members. Given that colleges are often structured similarly to communities, institutions of higher education may consider a similar approach to the one taken in Frome.
From a systemic standpoint, one agency has set out to explore the systems that contributed to well-being across the U.K. “What Works Wellbeing” is a centre that explores ways in which systems–the built environment, housing, infrastructure, culture, and community–contribute to well-being. Their website is a wealth of resources on resilience in physical spaces, ideas for measuring well-being, local well-being indicators, and creating well environments.
Another helpful resource for institutions seeking to increase well-being within their communities is the Anna Freud Toolkit. Put forth by Public Health England, the toolkit for schools and colleges aims to raise awareness of tools for measuring well-being, and to provide administrators with resources and best practices for collecting such data.
While institutions of higher education throughout the U.S. are making great strides on issues related to student well-being, we also have much to learn from our partners around the world. By applying a global lens to the concept of wellness, and seeking inspiration from outside of the 50 states, we can continue to ensure that we are doing our part to create healthy and happy communities of learners.