HEIs have traditionally provided mental health and wellness education programming via therapeutic services for mental health problems as well as remedial or supplementary instruction for learning difficulties and academic failure. More recently, the mission of HEIs has been to holistically improve students’ lives by promoting quality of life and healthy development during and beyond their enrolment. Hence, through student affairs offices, the staff at HEIs focus on students’ wellbeing and enrich their experiences, leading to a flourishing life. Wellbeing is a multidimensional construct which includes positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Hence, student affairs offices provide support and services to enhance students’ development and success in all areas (Baldwin et al., 2017; Mitchell et al., 2019). Such preventative approaches embed self-development wellbeing programming into the core university functions that constitute student life. According to Baldwin et al. (2017), holistic wellbeing in HE consists of:
Student affairs offices at HEIs have developed programming for each of these six forms of wellbeing. Programming for physical wellbeing is oftentimes focused on health promotion, nutrition and diet, exercise, substance use, abuse, and sexual health. Authors of a recent study on peer-supported physical activity based on self-determination theory suggest that combining physical activity with peer support has a positive effect on psychological outcomes for HES who are depressed, as well as enhancing campus relationships (Keeler et al., 2019). Public health programs also include peer dissemination strategies, coordinated efforts, community-based practices and initiatives, as well as theory-informed and evidence-based practices (ACHA Guidelines, 2019). Sexual health programs are also comprehensive, holistic, and theoretically based. Such an approach is necessary for sexual health programming in light of the multifaceted nature of sexual wellbeing, which includes components of identity, relationships, attitudes, emotions, and behaviour (Bedree et al., 2020; Kaestle & Evans, 2018). Programmes combine primary prevention (such as communicating about boundaries and personal responsibility) with protection strategies to defend and protect oneself and others from sexual assault (Holtzman & Menning, 2019; Menning & Holtzman, 2015). An example of such programming is “Answer” a national organisation that provides and promotes unfettered access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people and the adults who teach them.
Substance abuse programming includes community-supported abstinence as well as drug and alcohol initiatives. These initiatives are paramount for dealing with the multiple substance abuse crises prevalent within student bodies at colleges and universities (Beeson et al., 2017; Iarussi, 2018). An example is the Recovery Housing initiative at Rutgers University, which includes housing, group and individual therapy, 12-step programming, and academic and career support for students in recovery. It also offers ‘sober activities’, such as sporting events, hikes, bike trips, and intramurals
According to Conley and colleagues (2017), preventive programming is also useful for students who present sub-clinical mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and interpersonal difficulties. Community-wide preventive programming focusing on emotional, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing are initiatives that aim to bolster HES’s ability to cope with everyday life as well as their sense of identity and esteem. Such practices include meditation, stress management, resilience, and integrating new perspectives and ideas for dealing with the challenges inherent in transitions (Eisenberg et al., 2016). Crowley and Munk (2017) and Bamber and Schneider (2020) found that students who meditated became more mindful and compassionate, and that their sense of psychological and emotional wellbeing was bolstered. Comprehensive and multifaceted programming for stress management, utilising relaxation techniques, mindfulness and communication, as well as problem-solving and social skills, increased students’ coping abilities, helping them to overcome psychological difficulties and move forward with academic success and development (Conley et al., 2015). Mindfulness and compassion programming enable perceptual clarity, self‐awareness, and self-regulation for HES. Mindfulness training helps HES to understand their intentions and motivations, supporting them to make different choices, resulting in healthier social connections and minimised risk-taking behaviours (Dvořáková et al., 2019). Other practices give HE instructors crucial roles in students’ wellness and mental health needs. Professionals from different disciplines are informed about mental health issues and instructed to notice student performance problems or behaviours that could signal more profound distress. Instructors are coached on how to evaluate and handle such requests for help, support, and assignment deadline extensions (Di Placito-De Rango, 2018).
Social and relational wellbeing programmes encompass outdoor initiatives that strengthen relationships, social connectedness to peers, and the university community (Ribbe et al., 2016). Engagement in organisations such as sororities and fraternities boosts students’ sense of social wellbeing and purpose while decreasing loneliness (Turton et al., 2018). Effective prevention strategies include the development and implementation of programming for drug use prevention via environmental interventions such as task forces and collaboration between different stakeholders (Hingson et al., 2017). Friends who are in distress can be helped through peer-mediated groups and networks. The reduction of the stigma involves seeking help for mental health challenges and environmentally based prevention efforts (Gaddis et al., 2018). HEIs often serve older students, who may work as well as study, hence they may experience more significant challenges. This group is less likely to utilise traditional services; thus, online preventive and intervention initiatives are highly recommended (Burcin et al., 2019).
Economic wellbeing programming in HEIs includes instruction on financial knowledge and skills, helping students access economic resources, and demonstrating how to engage in opportunities that can lead to income. Such initiatives involve families and include instruction on dealing with debt and budgeting (Fry, 2014; Jones et al., 2018). Students’ wellbeing is currently an essential concern in HEI. Feeling supported and having optimal learning experiences during their studies is meaningful, life-enhancing, and resonates in students’ later lives. Student-centred approaches to mental health, wellness, teaching-learning, and overall wellbeing have gained ground in HE settings (Rubley, 2017; Schudde, 2019). According to McNair and colleagues (2016), HEI institutions need to prepare for today’s students and help them engage academically while in school and after graduation. Moreover, these authors state that students’ emotional attachment to the HEI is paramount for their learning. This is achieved when learning and extra-curricular activities involve faculty, staff, and students collaborating in purposeful tasks.