A Capital-Building Approach to Mental Health Promotion in Post-Secondary Students: An Evidence-Informed Strategy to Mitigate Stress Impacting Academic Success on Campus

Thumbnail Image




Lisnyj, Konrad

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


University of Guelph


Excessive stress remains a pervasive and significant public health problem among Canadian students pursuing higher education, including at the University of Guelph (UofG). This is concerning as increased stress is associated with poor physical, mental, emotional, and behavioural health outcomes, in addition to adverse academic outcomes. Post-secondary institutions are an ideal setting to optimize this population’s mental health and academic success. However, mental health promotion programs are often treatment-centred and lack an upstream, preventive focus, such as building resilience skills. This multi-method doctoral research comprised four interrelated studies that collectively explored the factors influencing the relationship between undergraduate students’ stress levels and academic success, with the aim of developing more effective proactive programs at post-secondary institutions using a capital-building approach. Using a systematic review, I synthesized the current academic literature on the identified risk and protective factors related to post-secondary students’ reporting of perceived stress impacting their academic success, and identified additional research gaps that informed this dissertation’s subsequent studies. In two cross-sectional observational studies using the 2019 National College Health Assessment-II data collected across 58 Canadian post-secondary institutions from 55,284 respondents, I measured the influence of variables on students’ reporting of stress impacting their academic performance. In one study, I examined this relationship at the individual level by looking at the influence of human and psychological capital variables, which underlie intrapersonal resiliency skill-building. In the second study, I investigated this relationship at the group level by measuring various dimensions of social capital, which underlie interpersonal resiliency skill-building. In a qualitative study, I applied the socio-ecological model for health promotion to explore the contextual factors, identified by 38 participants at the UofG, influencing the relationship between students’ stress levels and academic success at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, community, and public policy levels. This dissertation’s findings demonstrate the complex interplay of demographic, psychological, emotional, social, physical, and academic factors impacting students’ stress levels and academic success. Results highlight opportunities to develop proactive, resilience-focused, upstream mental health promotion efforts at post-secondary institutions to reduce stress and improve academic success. This knowledge can help Canadian post-secondary institutions better address students’ mental health needs.



stress, academic success, mental health promotion, human capital, psychological capital, social capital, post-secondary students, student wellness, socio-ecological model


Lisnyj, K. T., Pearl, D. L., McWhirter, J. E., & Papadopoulos, A. (2021). Targeting components of social capital on campus to alleviate Canadian post-secondary students' academic stress. Current Psychology, 1-11, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01376-5
Lisnyj, K. T., Pearl, D. L., McWhirter, J. E., & Papadopoulos, A. (2021). Exploration of Factors Affecting Post-Secondary Students' Stress and Academic Success: Application of the Socio-Ecological Model for Health Promotion. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(7), 3779. https:// doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073779
Lisnyj, K. T., Gillani, N., Pearl., D. L., McWhirter, J. E., & Papadopoulos, A. (accepted). Factors associated with stress impacting academic success among post-secondary students: A systematic review. Journal of American College Health.