Supporting Student Mental Health in Learning Environments

Instructors, teaching assistants and staff can all help students feel connected and supported in learning environments.

The following evidence-informed, low-barrier, high-impact strategies have been identified from an analysis of the Champions for Mental Health project to support and improve student mental health in classroom and other campus environments. Champions for Mental Health is a student-led initiative by the Student Mental Health Collective that aligns with the Campus Wellbeing Framework, the Okanagan Charter and Queen's strategy. Champions are Queen's instructors and staff, nominated by students in 2021-2023, for their support and promotion of student mental health and wellbeing. 

On analyzing:

10 low barrier, high impact, and evidence-informed strategies emerged as effective in supporting and improving student mental health in classroom and other campus environments. 

Resources for Educators

Instructors and staff are encouraged to consider incorporating these tem strategies in teaching and learning environments.

Each strategy includes specific examples for action, links to relevant research, resources at Queens and other higher education institutions, and tools for implementation.

We all have mental health - your support is meaningful and appreciated!


Top 10 Strategies used by Queen's Instructors and Staff to Champion Student Mental Health

Download a poster for faculty and staff spaces: Learnings from the Queen's Champions for Mental Health


Dedicate 3-5 minutes to regularly touch base with your students in class. Gauge how they're doing, identify academic stressors, build meaningful connections, and assess their understanding of the course content. 


Frequency - Try briefly checking-in with students before each class, once a week, or a longer check-in biweekly or monthly. 

Moment to Arrive Method - Remind students to put away distractions, take a deep breath, and/or another practice that supports a smooth transition into class time. 

Popular Topic Discussion - Check-in data (see below for tools) can be reviewed to identify a popular topic - common stressor, difficult content, etc. The topic can then be addressed during the next check-in, as a post on OnQ, or via email. 


Live-polling, surveys, and quizzes can be used for anonymous participation during check-ins, while populating the results for the class to see together. 


Clemans, S. E. (2011). The purpose, benefits, and challeneges of "check-in" in a group work class. Social Work with Groups, 34(2), 121-140. 

Consider flexible office hours in different formats: virtual meetings, on-campus sessions, or post-class discussions. Clearly state what office hours are for, when they will be held, and when necessary, follow up after meetings. Inform students of on-campus supports and resources.

Office hours promotes student-faculty connectedness which is associated with positive academic outcomes (Guerrero & Rod, 2013). 


Students need to feel that they matter in academic environments to approach an instructor or staff member during office hours. Ways to instil feelings of mattering include: 

  • Showing interest and attentiveness, 
  • Listening to hear what is meant, 
  • Giving positive feedback, 
  • Advising students you care, and 
  • Trying to speak one-on-one with different students regularly (Pychyl et al., 2022). 


Fostering Academic Tenacity: Office Hours - Ideas for planning, implementation and reflection from The University of British Columbia. 


Guerrero, M., & Rod, A. B. (2013). Engaging in office hours: A study of student-faculty interaction and academic performance. Journal of Political Science Education, 9(4), 403-416. 

Pychyl, T. A., Flett, G. L., Long, M., Carreiro, E., & Azil, R. (2022). Faculty perceptions of mattering in teaching and learning: A qualitative examination of the views, values, and teaching practices of award-winning professors. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 40(1), 142-158.

Depending on the length of the class, a 5-to-10-minute break mid-class can help students to digest learning material, renew their focus and catch up on notes. As exams approach, consider reserving one lecture as a free period for independent study and/or self-care. 


Stretch or Movement - Ask the class to move, stand or stretch to help increase their overall concentration, receptiveness, motivation, and wellbeing (Paulus et al., 2021). 

Mindfulness Practices - Asking the class to sit silently and collectively listen to a 2-5 minute meditation recording. Meditating during class breaks can increase academic performance and increase patience and emotional valence (Kirkby et al., 2021). 


Guided Meditations:

Sample Stretch Ideas, University of Ottawa.


Kirby, L. A., Kornman IV, P. T., & Robinson, J. L. (2021). Outcomes of "brain breaks": Short consistent meditation and silent sessions in the college classroom are associated with subtle benefits. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 5(1), 99-117. 

Paulus, M., Kunkel, J., Schmidt, S. C. E., Bachert, P., Wasche, H., Neumann, R., & Woll, A. (2021). Standing breaks in lectures improve university students' self-percieved physical, mental, and cognitive condition. International Journal of Envrionmental Research and Public Health, 18(8), 4204. 

See students as whole human beings; academia is only one of many parts of a student's life. 

Acknowledge the diverse, personal, and inherently stressful experiences of students. Strive to foster an environment where student wellbeing is considered alongside personal and academic growth; academic rigour can coexist with compassion and care. Treat concerns, inquiries and requests for academic accommodation with respect and seriousness. 



Academic Considerations in Extenuating Circumstances - Establish reasonable extensions or alternative modes of delivery when the unexpected happens in your students lives.

How to Incorporate an Intentionally Compassionate Pedagogy, University of Manitoba. 

Step Outside the Classroom - Attend campus events and activities to interact with peers and students outside of the classroom environment, while building a sense of community. 



I-EDIIA Modules, Sessions, and Resources - gain knowledge of the impacts of various social justice issues and inequities students face. 

Queen's Student Health Survey 2022 Overview - explore this snapshot of Queen's students' health behaviours, attitudes, experiences and perceptions. 


Saez de Camara, E., Fernandez, I., & Castillo-Eguskitza, N. (2021). A holistic approach to integrate and evaluate sustainable development in higher education, the case study of the university of the basque country. Sustainability, 13(1), 192. 

When beginning a course, encourage the use of campus wellbeing services a; make the information easily accessible on the course syllabus and/or onQ homepage. When possible, consider areas where wellbeing strategies can be incorporated into course content and your teaching style. 


Key strategies that promote student wellbeing involve identifying and reducing unnecessary stressors in curriculum by recognizing the psychological needs of students such as: 

  • Being flexible in how students can approach assessments and topics studied, 
  • Streamlining traditional curriculum content,
  • Setting assignment deadlines to10pm instead of 11:59pm to allow for student sleep / rest, 
  • Equipping students with resources needed to develop skills in managing stress, conflict, and uncertainty, and 
  • Encouraging and supporting students to find meaning in the tasks they are require to complete (Baik et al., 2017). 

From Australia, Enhancing Student Mental Wellbeing: A Handbook for Academic Educators - Explore different ways professors incorporate wellbeing into the curricula of various courses (pages 29 to 40). 


Queen's Student Affairs provides Classroom PowerPoint Slides which can be played on a loop before classes start or added to course introductions, or onQ, to help direct students to campus wellness resources.  

How to Provide Upstream Support for Student Well-being


Baik, C., Larcombe, W., Brooker, A., Wyn, J., Allen, L., Brett, M., Field, R., & James, R. (2017). Enhancing student mental wellbeing: A handbook for academic educators. The University of Melbourne. 

Enhance your understanding of student mental health. Engage with resources for instructors and staff and learn where to direct students for various supports and resources. 

Care for your own mental health; positive wellbeing of educators is associated with higher wellbeing and lower psychological distress in students (Harding et al., 2019).

Tools at Queen's:

Wellness Groups, Events, and Trainings - (students, staff and faculty) Student Wellness Services. 

  • Training examples - Identifying and Responding to Students in Distress, Caring for Present & Future You, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), safeTALK (suicide alertness).

Supports & Resources - Student Wellness Services. 

  • Mental Health examples - Self-directed workbooks, on and off campus resources, online and phone services. 
  • Other Wellness-Related Resources - Physical activity, sexual health, sleep, social wellness, substance use, food insecurity, healthy eating, financial aid, 2SLGBTQ+ and gender issues, etc. 

CARE Referral Program - When concerned about a student, instructors and staff are invited to advise the university's CARE team. The CARE team will reach out to the student to connect the student with appropriate resources and services. 

Health and Wellness for Faculty and Staff - Human Resources


Harding, S., Morris, R., Gunnell, D., Ford, T., Hollingworth, W., Tilling, K., Evans, R., Bell, S., Grey, J., Brockman, R., Campbell, R., Araya, R., Murphy, S., & Kidger, J. (2019). Is teachers mental health and wellbeing associated with students' mental health and wellbeing? Journal of Affective Disorders, (242), 180-187. 


Connect with your TAs, other instructors and staff members to share strategies for supporting student mental health. Solicit and consider student feedback to identify strengths and areas for improvement in leadership and course design. Consider working with other instructors in your department or faculty to coordinate assessments to support student mental health. 


Derive inspiration from the Champions for Mental Health project. 

Incorporate a mental health and wellness question into feedback surveys. 

Review the results of your courses QSSET (Queen's Survey of Student Experience of Teaching).


Collecting Feedback on Your Teaching, Queen's University. 

  • Promoting Good Feedback
  • Using onQ for Midterm Feedback Surveys 
  • Using Feedback Results 

Gathering Formative Feedback with Mid-Course Evaluations, University of Toronto. 

  • Models of Evaluation and Steps
  • Creating Good Questions 
  • Good Feedback & Responses 
  • Interpretation & Change

Ongoing Classroom Assessment Techniques and Midterm Feedback, Western University Centre for Teaching and Learning. 

  • Techniques to Elicit Feedback 
  • Peer Feedback & Self Reflection


Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., & Bovill, C. (2020). Do students experience transformation through co-creating curriculum in higher education? Teaching in Higher Education.

When possible, build flexibility into timelines, deadlines and assignments. Consider accommodations outside of academic accommodations and consideration for extenuating circumstances, such as proactive grace periods. 

Flexible deadlines may help students use their time more efficiently, balance academic responsibilities, and produce higher quality work (Hills & Peacock, 2022). 


Smaller Classes - Consider providing a 24-48-hour grace period for all or some assignments. 

Larger Classes - Consider providing a grace period to one or two major assignments. 

Dropping the Lowest Grade - from a set of formative assessments, allowing flexibility without negative consequences. 

Co-ordinate the Timing of Assignments & Exams - with instructors of other core courses. 

Accessibility and Universal Design in Practice - Queen's Centre for Teaching and Learning. 

Supporting Student Mental Wellbeing: Course Design, University of Waterloo


Universal Design for Learning Module, Queen's Centre for Teaching and Learning and Human Rights and Equity Office. 

Universal Instructional Design Quick-Start Implementation Check list, University of Guelph


Hills, M., & Peacock, K. (2022). Replacing power with flexible structure: Implementing flexible deadlines to improve student learning experiences. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 10.

Quick reminders in class, on onQ or via email of self-care habits and activities and upcoming deadlines and assignments can prompt students to take meaningful action. Encourage students to pursue their academic as well as personal interests, to challenge themselves while also making time for rest, and to celebrate their efforts and achievements. 

Reminders can improve student behaviour such as completing assignments in a timely manner, resulting in better academic performance during examinations (Ye et al., 2022). 


End of the Day Self-Care Reminder - Before students leave class, take a second to remind them of an upcoming due date and/or to practice in self-care. Self-care reminders can include: 

  • Try to move more and sit less
  • Get good quality sleep at night
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, eat protein and healthy fats and choose whole grain foods
  • Schedule free time for friends, family, and rest
  • Explore interests and hobbies outside of academics
  • Celebrate their efforts in overcoming obstacles as well as their achievements 
  • Try one of the wellness workshops available on-campus. 


onQ Notifications - Encourage your students to enable onQ notifications to ensure they see due dates of upcoming assignments, instructor and TA posts, and more. 


Ye, R., Chen, P., Mao, Y., Wang-Lin, A., Shaikh, H., Bernuv, A. Z., & Williams, J. J. (2022). Behavioural consequences of reminder emails on students' academic performance: A real-world deployment. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Conference on Information Technology Education. 

The inherent stress of academics necessitates fostering student resilience and critical thinking help students differentiate between healthy challenges and the need for additional supports. Express understanding of challenging situations, encourage your students to reflect, respond proactively, and learn from their experiences by adopting a growth mindset. 


Ways you can foster resilience among students:

  • Briefly discuss how healthy stress can motivate and increase performance during mid-terms and finals
  • Create a low-risk environment, by including a "best x out of y" grading scheme
  • Encourage formal and/or informal peer study groups
  • Gauge the class for strengths and weaknesses to develop appropriately challenging assessments
  • Remind students about healthy behaviours that positively impact academics including moving more, eating well and sleeping better
  • Familiarize yourself with on-campus resources (Hellemans, 2018)


Queen's Classroom Wellbeing Slides - A PowerPoint slide deck that can help direct students to wellness resources on campus.

Learn to identify and respond to students in distress using the Green Folder (for faculty and staff) and the Green Card (for students). 

Thriving in the Classroom - a digital toolkit for instructors, staff, and students to empower and promote resilience from eCampus Ontario. 



Hellemans, K. (2018). Fostering resilience among students: A little stress goes a long way. University Affairs.

This work has been completed by the Cathleen O-Brien, Bachelor of Health Sciences Student, 2022-2023 Student Mental Health Collective. Thank you Cathleen!