Prioritizing Holistic Student Well-being: 5 Reasons Why Institutions Should Focus on More Than Just Mental and Physical Health


In their two positions at Butler University, the author offers a distinct perspective on supporting holistic student well-being. As the director of student affairs assessment and strategy, they closely observe the diverse programs and services at Butler. Simultaneously, in their role as executive director of the Institute for Well-being, they work with institutions nationwide, assisting them in assessing well-being supports and finding ways to address challenges through the lens of well-being.

Prioritizing Holistic Student Well-being: 5 Reasons Why Institutions Should Focus on More Than Just Mental and Physical Health

(Photo : PEXELS / Keira Burton)

After engaging in discussions at recent national conferences, the author has identified core rationales for why institutions should prioritize holistic student well-being over solely focusing on mental or physical health. Here are five compelling reasons:

1. Enhancing overall well-being supporting mental and physical health

Counseling centers are essential for supporting mental health needs. However, institutions must ensure equitable access to basic needs, academic support, social engagement, and financial assistance. By alleviating stressors in these areas, students can better manage their mental health. This approach also encourages faculty and staff to play a role in supporting students' well-being beyond the counseling center.

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2. Positive outcomes are linked to well-being

Research indicates that supporting students' holistic well-being leads to positive outcomes. For instance, involvement in student organizations and leadership roles contributes to greater psychological well-being over time. Factors like hope, optimism, good sleep habits, and nutrition also influence academic performance and overall well-being. By implementing these interventions, institutions can significantly impact students' success.

3. Aligning programs and services

Centering well-being as an institutional focus allows for the alignment of programs, services, and academic efforts. Collaborative initiatives enhance cross-departmental communication and increase the number of individuals contributing to student well-being. When everyone understands the institution's commitment to holistic well-being, efforts can be streamlined to achieve a cohesive mission.

4. Enhanced legitimacy and accountability

Prioritizing student well-being at the institutional level increases accountability for these efforts. By incorporating well-being into strategic plans and goals, institutions demonstrate a commitment to all aspects of student life. This transparency enhances the institution's reputation among parents, families, and prospective students. Moreover, it may attract additional resources to further support student well-being initiatives.

5. Broadening participation and perspectives

Emphasizing holistic well-being encourages institutions to involve a wider range of voices in decision-making processes. By bringing together diverse perspectives from various offices and divisions, institutions can develop more comprehensive strategies to support student well-being. This inclusive strategy nurtures a feeling of community and collective accountability for student achievements.

Prioritizing holistic student well-being is not just a choice; it's an imperative for institutions of higher education. By expanding their focus beyond mental and physical health to encompass the broader aspects of student life, institutions can create a more supportive and inclusive environment. This approach not only enhances student success but also contributes to the overall well-being of the campus community.

The benefits of this approach are manifold. It enhances mental and physical health by addressing stressors in various areas of student life. It leads to positive outcomes, as research shows that holistic well-being correlates with better academic performance and psychological health. Additionally, aligning programs and services and enhancing accountability and legitimacy contribute to a more cohesive and effective institutional strategy.

Moreover, by broadening participation and perspectives, institutions can tap into a wealth of ideas and experiences, leading to more comprehensive and effective support strategies. Overall, prioritizing holistic student well-being is not just about improving individual outcomes; it's about fostering a culture of care and support that permeates every aspect of campus life.

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