Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Education




Dr. Melody Viczko and Dr. Vicki Schwean


This research explored the perceptions of student affairs and services (SAS) leaders in relation to the effectiveness of policies and practices that assist students with mental health problems. Many students enter post-secondary schools with existing conditions that may or may not be clinically recognized. These mental health impairments and disabilities can manifest as permanent, sporadic, or temporary impairments. The emergence and magnitude of mental illness in early adulthood make post-secondary institutions key environments in which to intervene more proactively. Providing access to comprehensive mental health supports is vital for meeting students’ increasing needs. To investigate how post-secondary leaders are responding to these needs, a qualitative single case study was conducted at one college in Ontario. Thematic analysis was used to examine transcripts and documentary evidence. Researcher notes served as a third source of data. Four participant-derived themes emerged in this study. They were (a) Developing Contextual Understanding: Complexity of Needs; (b) Developing the Culture: It Takes the Whole Community; (c) Developing People and Supports: On the Same Page; and (d) Developing the Organization: Connecting the Dots. These areas were viewed as chief priorities for ensuring learning, success & positive mental health. There were four major findings: (a) Students’ mental health affected learning & success. Their needs were complex, growing & not being fully met; (b) Mental health policies & practices must be responsive to individual & collective needs & driven by a student-centred, contextually specific approach & shared commitment to success; (c) Some students & faculty misunderstood mental health. Student services leaders played a key role in filling this gap by initiating data-driven preventive & promotional measures; and (d) The lack of a mental health policy acted as a barrier to meeting students’ needs. The SAS leaders proposed three key areas for improvement at the college: (a) expanding students’ awareness of mental health and the support alternatives; (b) building the faculty’s knowledge of mental health, the accommodation process, and the available mental health services; and (c) introducing a college mental health policy centred on these knowledge mobilization and capacity building efforts. SAS leaders have been identified as important agents for introducing awareness-raising activities, reducing barriers, and providing resources that positively influence students’ mental health. This research contributes knowledge to the mental health and student services disciplines. The goals were to inform policies and practices and provide guidance for developing and implementing services and supports that are devoted to college students with mental health impairments and disabilities.