Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Christopher B. Newman, Ph.D., Chair; Zachary Gabriel Green, Ph.D., Member; Lee Williams, Ph.D., Member


caring communities, higher education, mental health, mental illness, stigma, Student Affairs


Around half of undergraduate college students will experience mental illness to some extent during their academic careers, yet a low percentage of students experiencing signs and symptoms of mental illness will seek help despite the availability of proven, effective treatments. The field of higher education has demonstrated a genuine concern for individuals with mental illnesses and mental health care on campuses, yet implementation of practices that connect students to treatment is inconsistent and effectiveness is uncertain.

This study searched for associations between campus practices and campus culture regarding mental illness. While institutions of higher education are using both traditional and emerging mental health practices, little research has been done to inform institutions which practices may be effective in increasing healthy behaviors, such as help seeking. This study focused on the stigma of mental illness due to its consistent, negative relationship with help-seeking behaviors.

Stigmatizing attitudes of Student Affairs professionals was used as a measure of campus culture due to professionals’ direct, consistent relationships with students and their ability to influence policies and procedures that affect support of student mental health and students with mental illness. The final sample of Student Affairs professionals included 125 professionals at over 80 institutions in over 30 states.

Social stigma was measured using the newly developed Student Affairs Professionals Social Stigma Scale (SAPSSS) based on Corrigan’s (2004) model of stigma. SAPSSS scores were analyzed to search for relationships between awareness of, referral to, and engagement in campus mental health practices; contact with individuals with mental illness; staff characteristics (level, area, length of employment); and institutional characteristics (type, size, affiliation, and designation).

The results of this study include a list of campus mental health practices and support for the use of practices that target relationships, between individuals and between groups, in creating caring campus communities. While other practices may be effective in supporting or treating individuals with mental illness, practices that target relationships in educating members of the campus community to care for each other show the most potential for influencing campus culture to increase mental health on campuses at all levels.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies