The World Health Organization World Mental Health International College Student (WMH-ICS) initiative aims to screen for mental health and substance use problems among postsecondary students on a global scale as well as to develop and evaluate evidence-based preventive and ameliorative interventions for this population. This protocol paper presents the Canadian version of the WMH-ICS survey, detailing the adapted survey instrument, the unique weekly cross-sectional administration, the multitiered recruitment strategy, and the associated risk mitigation protocols.
This paper aims to provide a methodological resource for researchers conducting cross-national comparisons of WMH-ICS data, as well as to serve as a useful guide for those interested in replicating the outlined cross-sectional methodology to better understand how mental health and substance use vary over time among university students.
The online survey is based on the WMH-ICS survey instrument, modified to the Canadian context by the addition of questions pertaining to Canadian-based guidelines and the translation of the survey to Canadian French. The survey is administered through the Qualtrics survey platform and is sent to an independent stratified random sample of 350 students per site weekly, followed by two reminder emails. Upon survey closure every week, a random subsample of 70 nonresponders are followed up with via phone or through a personal email in an effort to decrease nonresponder bias. The survey is accompanied by an extensive risk mitigation protocol that stratifies respondents by the level of need and provides tailored service recommendations, including a facilitated expedited appointment to student counseling services for those at increased risk of suicide. The anticipated sample size is approximately 5500 students per site per year.
In February 2020, the Canadian survey was deployed at the University of British Columbia. This was followed by deployment at Simon Fraser University (November 2020), McMaster University (January 2021), and the University of Toronto (January 2022). Data collection at all 4 sites is ongoing. As of May 6, 2022, 29,503 responses have been collected.
Based on international collaboration, the Canadian version of the WMH-ICS survey incorporates a novel methodological approach centered on the weekly administration of a comprehensive cross-sectional survey to independent stratified random samples of university students. After 27 months of consecutive survey administration, we have developed and refined a survey protocol that has proven effective in engaging students at four Canadian institutions, allowing us to track how mental health and substance use vary over time using an internationally developed university student survey based on the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition).
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