Student Mental Health & Well-being Framework

Student mental health is central to the student experience and through collaborative action, we strive to create systems, cultures, curriculum and programs that enhance student well-being, mental health and health equity. By advancing these goals, we not only support students to thrive and succeed academically, but we also equip them with skills and experiences that support them to make an impact in the greater community for years to come. 


This framework outlines Health & Counselling Services (HCS) ongoing commitment to advancing student mental health, health equity and well-being in partnership with others across the institution. It is used internally in HCS as a guide and planning document and to communicate our aspirations to collaborators.  It can be used by others in the university as a planning tool and reference to relevant mental health efforts and as an invitation to collaboration. To the best of our ability, we have aligned this with organizational goals and commitments.

"Health promoting universities and colleges infuse health into everyday operations, business practices and academic mandates. By doing so, health promoting universities and colleges enhance the success of our institutions; create campus cultures of compassion, well-being, equity and social justice; improve the health of the people who live, learn, work, play and love on our campuses; and strengthen the ecological, social and economic sustainability of our communities and wider society."

The Okanagan Charter: An International Charter on Health Promoting Universities & Colleges (2015)


The framework is guided by:

In March 2023, SFU launched What’s Next: the SFU Strategy that will guide our collective work over the coming years. This strategy emphasizes the need to “focus on the well-being of all those who learn and work at SFU, mindful of preparing students for an uncertain and complex world.”  - SFU What’s Next: The SFU Strategy, p 6.

The Student Mental Health & Well-being Framework outlines an evidence informed strategy to enhance student mental health and well-being at SFU in alignment with this strategic plan. By creating cultures, systems, curriculum, programs and service enhancements that prioritize mental health we are directly contributing to the actions outlined in the strategy related to Transforming the SFU Experience. The framework is being advanced alongside SFU’s People Plan which includes a focus on staff and faculty well-being, thus ensuring a whole campus approach to well-being can be collaboratively realized. 

84% of SFU students report that their mental health interferes with their performance at school.

(Preliminary findings from the Student e-Mental Health Project, Mental Health Systems and Services Lab at University of British Columbia sponsored by Health Canada, 2022). 

Guiding Principles

  • Cultures of care: We work collectively to create cultures of care through which genuine and meaningful relationships are built and environments of respect, reciprocity, compassion, flexibility, connection, equity and belonging support student well-being. 

  • Holistic conceptualizations of health and well-being: We create space for learning with and from knowledge-informed, culturally inclusive practices that encompass various experiences, perspectives, identities, and understandings of health & well-being. 

  • Student voice: We hold students’ needs and goals at the heart of our decision making and center student voice in the design of programs and initiatives. 

  • Systemic action: Comprehensive and systemic action is needed to embed well-being across the institution, including individual and organizational levels and the academic mandate.  

  • Building on strengths: An asset-based approach seeks and expands exemplary actions and activities that are creating conditions for well-being, while highlighting and celebrating shared progress. 

  • Equity and justice: Principles of social justice, accessibility, cultural safety and equity are woven in all health promotion action to help reduce health disparities and contribute to justice. We approach our work through anti-oppressive, anti-racist, trauma-informed, healing-centered and socio-ecological lenses.  

  • Decolonization, reconciliation and Indigenization: We are committed to advancing reconciliation, decolonization and Indigenization through our practices and programs. We acknowledge that we operate within a colonial institution and system that cause substantial harm to Indigenous peoples. We acknowledge the responsibility we each have individually and collectively to advance decolonization, equity and justice. 

  • Evidence-informed and reflexive practice: We are committed to continual learning, reflexive practice, innovation and growth. Diverse research, evidence, evaluation, lived experience, and various sources of knowledge are drawn upon to inform strategies.   

  • Ecological and social sustainability: We recognize that the health and well-being of communities, living beings, and the planet are interconnected. The One Health approach is reflected in all health promotion activities, and we take seriously our individual and collective responsibility to our communities and planet.   

Action Framework 

The following action framework helps to explain the key commitments needed to address student mental health and well-being and outlines the overlapping action areas through which initiatives and opportunities to enhance student well-being can be viewed.  


The following six commitments outline the strategic action areas through which we will achieve our goal of advancing student mental health, health equity and well-being at SFU. These align with recommendations from the National Standard for Post-Secondary Student Mental Health & Well-being, and the following audit tool was used in accessing current needs at SFU. 

An overview of current programming lead by HCS under each commitment is outlined below. 

Policies & Organizational Systems

We strive to have diverse perspectives on well-being and mental health inform and shape the policies, processes and organizational structures that impact student well-being. This includes a commitment to ensuring a well-being lens is applied in the development of new policies, processes and structures across the institution. 

Creating Physical Spaces for Well-being

We are committed to working collectively with Facilities Services, the Campus Vibrancy Project and other partners to develop physical spaces on campus that support student well-being, inclusion and thriving. 

Embedding Well-being in Learning Environments

Building upon substantial successes, we will work collaboratively with academic units, faculty members, TAs, Centre for Educational Excellence and TILT to embed a focus on well-being within learning environments at SFU, so that students experience mental health and well- being within their academic programs and learning experiences.

Equity, Connection & Inclusion

In collaboration with diverse partners across Student Services and within academic units, we strive to create cultures of connection, belonging, and inclusion that support and enhance well-being for equity deserving students and create a sense of connection for all.

 Mental Health & Well-being Literacy

We work collectively to empower students and partners through comprehensive, accessible and evidence-based mental health and well-being education that prioritizes safety, health equity and cultural competence.

Support Services 

Within HCS we work in partnership with others across Student Services and the university to provide coordinated, accessible and culturally appropriate support to students. We are intentional in striving for warm hand-offs to the range of support options a student might benefit from. Through an interdisciplinary team of professionals, we provide accessible support and care to students that addresses both mental and physical health needs. We strive to achieve a stepped care model that puts students first, and enables students to access a range of culturally appropriate support options relevant to their needs. We work with others on campus to ensure critical incidents are managed in a timely and effective way. Early intervention is currently realized through a range of services, while recognizing the need for a formal early alerts program. In addition, however, a true holistic and comprehensive view of Well-being Support Services are those provisions that are required at the times when a student is in need, and that could impact a student’s well-being. This could include trauma-informed, responsive and integrated case management or advising for things such as housing, immigration, finances, disabilities, faith, academics or a variety of things that impact student lives. 

While we recognize that many people, units, and groups at the university contribute to student well-being, a comprehensive list of support services within the university is beyond the scope and influence of this departmental framework. This aspect is an integral and necessary part/lens of any well-being framework and intersects with all the above mention areas as well as the lenses of Education/Training and Settings.


The following key indicators are used to measure our progress over time towards improved student well-being, health equity and mental health at SFU.

Source (date)
Baseline Data
Overall Mental Health    
In general, how would you rate your mental health? Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (2023)

48% rated their mental health as good, very good or excellent (2023)

32% Good

11% Very good 

5% Excellent

Does your mental health interfere with your academic performance at school? Student e-Mental Health Project, Mental Health Systems and Services Lab at University of British Columbia (2020-2022) 84% of SFU student respondents agree or strongly agree (2020-2022)
Policy & Systems    
SFU provides me with a supportive environment that reduces unnecessary personal and academic stress. Undergraduate Student Survey (2020, 2021)  39% Agree or Strongly agree (2021) 
At my institution, I feel that students’ mental and emotional wellbeing is a priority. Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (2023) 40% Somewhat agree

19% Agree

6% Strongly agree (2023)
Spaces to Thrive     
To what degree are physical spaces welcoming and accessible at SFU? Undergraduate Student Survey (2019)

67% of respondents agree in relation to the Surrey campus (2019)

58% of respondents agree in relation to the Vancouver campus (2019)

56% of respondents agree in relation to the Burnaby campus (2019)

Well-being in Learning Environments    

In general, my instructors at SFU provide me with learning experiences that:

  1. Encourage social connection between students
  2. Are flexible to my needs
  3. Are welcoming, respectful and inclusive for all students
  4. Are challenging but not overwhelming
Undergraduate Student Survey (2018, 2021. 2022) 
  1. 62% Agree (2021)
  2. 62% Agree (2021)
  3. 90% Agree (2022)
  4. 61% Agree (2021)

Note – in general these indicators have trended upwards since SFU’s Well-being in Learning Environments work began in 2012. Students taking part in courses taught be faculty involved in this work also report higher agreement with each of these indicators as compared to the average at SFU. To learn more see here

In general, I feel like my instructors at SFU care about my well-being. Undergraduate Student Survey (2020, 2022)  72% Agree or Strongly agree (2022)
Equity Connection and Inclusion     
I feel that I belong at my institution. Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (2023) 

32% Somewhat agree

40% Agree

10% Strongly agree 


I have a group, community, or social circle at my institution where I feel I belong (feel at home, known, connected to, support in my identity). Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (2023)

24% Somewhat agree

18% Agree 

15% Strongly agree 


My institution values diversity. Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (2023)

22% Somewhat agree

45% Agree

23% Strongly agree 


Mental Health & Well-being Literacy    

To what degree do you agree that SFU provides you with resources:

  1. that help you build skills for mental health & well-being?
  2. that help you support others’ mental health & well-being?
Undergraduate Student Survey (2022)
  1. 46% Agree (2022)
  2. 48% Agree (2022)

How satisfied are you with the following resources at SFU Health & Counselling Services? 

  • Health and well-being outreach events and/or programs (such as health peers, HI-FIVE, online training)

Undergraduate Student Survey (2022) 79% of respondents Agree or Somewhat agree (2022)
Support Services    

How satisfied are you with the following resources at SFU Health & Counselling Services? 

  1. My SSP (Student Support Program) 
  2. Mental health supports (such as counselling and drop-in programs)
  3. Physical health (such as doctors and nurses)
Undergraduate Student Survey (2022)
  1. 60% Agree (2022)
  2. 70% Agree (2022)
  3. 85% Agree (2022)

In addition, qualitative and program specific evaluation takes place to understand the experiences of students in our programs and the impacts these have on their experiences as students. In order to understand and improve the experiences of equity deserving students, responses from these students are reviewed and explored so that informed and meaningful decisions can be made to improve health equity. 

An overview of current outcomes and impacts of the Healthy Campus Community Initiative can be found here.

Vision for the Future

As we reflect on the past 10 years of advancing student well-being at SFU, and commit to the new strategic direction outlined in SFU What’s Next, there is an opportunity to consider gaps that could be filled over the coming years. The following recommendations have been developed through a review of best practices from literature and at other post-secondary institutions, and an audit of our mental health initiatives at SFU in relation to the National Standard for Post-Secondary Student Mental Health.

  1. Identify an upper leadership champion to endorse the framework, communicate with the SFU community about ways they can support and activate the Framework and ensure mechanisms (i.e., institutional governance structures, dedicated resources) are in place for sustained action and commitment over time.
  2. Formalize a policy review process to ensure a mental health and well-being lens is applied in policies and processes, building on existing resources.
  3. Formalize and support partnerships with academic units.  Strong faculty relationships and partnerships between the Healthy Campus Community initiative and the Centre for Educational Excellence exist. Leadership support for these efforts would be beneficial for ensuring participation extends beyond faculty champions.
  4. Ensure a comprehensive and interdepartmental early alert and early intervention plan, which include a multi-model approach and capacity building among faculty and staff in academic units.
  5. Ensure robust crises management and postvention plans including a working group to expand Critical Incident Management Processes (SRS)
  6. Review and enhance mental health supports with attention to the needs of equity-deserving students, accessibility, student centered design and Reconciliation. Ensure representation of a diversity of mental health practitioners in continuing positions, to reflect the diverse needs of the community and that enhanced identity based supports are available. 
  7. Advance strategies that support a stepped care model for student care, including a diverse array of support options and access points to meet students where they’re at, and improved efficiency in accessing and navigating care.
  8. Develop a mental health peer support program and seamlessly embed it as part of the stepped care model. 
  9. Ensure adequate resourcing to meet student demands for support and care and minimize wait times.
  10. Streamline Health and Counselling Services’ intake process through access case managers, and other shifts to ensure timely assessment of student needs, ease of accessing next steps and resource navigation for improved continuity of care.
  11. Create a physical space as a central location for students to access educational resources related to health & well-being and a community building space for well-being-related activities offered by peer programs and other groups. 
  12. Ensure all educational programming is developed with a lens of cultural safety and equity. Develop targeted programming to enhance equity in collaboration with the Director, EDI for Student Services.
  13. Continue to expand the breadth of student facing programs through which health and well-being messaging is embedded. 
  14. Continue to expand evaluation metrics and plans. 
Glossary of Terms
  • Culture of Care: “A Culture of Care is a theory that says schools and workplaces should put more importance on relationships than curriculum when determining their institutional purpose” (Walden University, 2023).
  • Decolonization: the socio-political agenda that seeks to redress historical and current practices that have had deleterious effects on Aboriginal peoples (SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council, 2017)
  • Equity: “when responsibilities, resources, and opportunities are distributed fairly and justly among all group members and done so in a manner that works to resolve historical and current disadvantages for under-represented and marginalized groups” (SFU Library Statement on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, 2022).
  • Human Centered Design: “a problem-solving technique that puts real people at the center of the development process, enabling you to create products and services that resonate and are tailored to your audience’s needs” (Harvard Business School, 2023).
  • Inclusion “exists when all community members are recognized, respected, and welcomed, as well as enabled to freely engage with, question, and shape the community’s activities. A critical aspect of inclusion is being mindful of the impact that differences in power and privilege can have on perceptions, experiences, relationships, and freedom of expression” (SFU Library Statement on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, 2022).
  • Mental health: “more than the absence of a mental health condition or illness; it is a positive sense of well-being, or the capacity to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face” (CMHA, 2019). 
  • Well-being: “what people think and feel about their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions and resilience, the realization of their potential, or their overall satisfaction with life” (CDC, 2018).
  • Wellness: Typically thought of as the culmination of individual-level health practices: “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health” (Global Wellness Institute, 2023).