and we advertised our services to all students and to staff throughout the
university. We succeeded in finding just over 150 such students, as well as
roughly 70 from the pool of students on probation. Self-referred students
were distressed; intake testing showed they had significantly more emotional problems than students recruited due to weaker grades.
In December 2011, we collected data on a quality-of-life screening
questionnaire (the SF- 36 Quality Metric) that evaluates physical and
mental health reliably and accurately. At the end of the academic year we
conducted exit interviews and re-administered the questionnaire, looking specifically at mental health composite scores that have been used to
screen for depression in youth populations, allowing the detection and
treatment of emerging depressive symptoms.
Significant improvements were seen in the mental health composite
scores on the questionnaire administered at the end of the fall term and just
before finals in the winter term. A “dose effect” was seen as well: students
who had had 10 or more support sessions showed significant improvement
while students with four to nine sessions did not improve significantly.
We were most concerned about those students who scored below the
normal range on the quality-of-life questionnaire. The bottom third of
our combined groups showed significant improvement in mental health
scores, with the average shifting from below the normal range (which is
40 to 60) to the normal range. Students in the top two-thirds, who were
in better shape initially, did not change – nor did they need to. (See chart at
left.) In sum, this shows that we can positively affect students’ well-being
and can do so without formal psychiatric diagnoses in a program that uses
graduate-student interns to provide counselling for most students.
As we move forward, our plan is to target and support the most vulnerable students who make up a very small percentage of the student
population. We have developed a pilot project with the Ottawa-Carleton
District School Board where we are seeking referrals from each high school
for graduating students who have been accepted at Carleton University.
We have asked school counsellors and teachers to identify students who
have required extra help in high school and who would benefit from
FIT:Action support (and who do not qualify for extra support, such as
learning disability support). If this program is effective, we will expand it
to include six other school boards in the region that contribute 50 percent
of our first-year students.
The success we have seen can be simply represented with graphs and
numbers. The real meaning, though, is personal and is based on commitment, hard work and development, but most importantly on the connection
between people. It is this alliance that reduces isolation and brings individuals back to themselves so that they can better achieve their potential.
Larry McCloskey is director of the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities and
co-founder of From Intention to Action (FIT:Action) and Research Education Accessibility
and Design (READ). John Meissner is an Ottawa psychologist and co-founder of FIT:Action.
1 The Transitions Longitudinal Study showed that postsecondary students with learning
disabilities who received appropriate supports had a seven-year graduation rate
of 91 percent, compared with the provincial average of 78 percent for students in the
general population. See www1.carleton.ca/fita/transitions-longitudinal-study/
Mental Health Scores of Participating Students
p < .01
67. 42 66.02
Students scoring in the
Students scoring in the
top two thirds
Initial score, end of fall term Score at the end of winter term,