International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 61, Issue 7, pp 797–807 | Cite as

Setting-based interventions to promote mental health at the university: a systematic review

  • A. FernandezEmail author
  • E. Howse
  • M. Rubio-Valera
  • K. Thorncraft
  • J. Noone
  • X. Luu
  • B. Veness
  • M. Leech
  • G. Llewellyn
  • L. Salvador-Carulla



Universities are dynamic environments. But university life presents challenges that may affect the mental health of its community. Higher education institutions provide opportunities to promote public health. Our objective is to summarise the current evidence on strategies to promote mental health at the university, following a setting-based model.


We conducted a systematic literature review following standard methods. Published literature that evaluated structural and organizations strategies to promote mental health at the university was selected.


19 papers were included. The majority of the studies were targeting the students, with only four aiming to promote employees’ mental health. The most promising strategies to promote mental wellbeing included changes in the way students are taught and assessed. On the other hand, social marketing strategies had not impact on mental health. There is inconclusive evidence related to the effectiveness of policies to promote mental health.


Universities should invest in creating supportive physical, social and academic environments that promote student and staff mental wellbeing. However, the current body of evidence is scarce and more research is needed to recommend what are the best strategies.


Mental health promotion Setting-based approach University 



The authors are grateful to the member of the Mental Wellbeing Group at Healthy Sydney University, who oversighted this review during all the process, providing useful comments and inputs.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

This paper presents the results of a systematic review of published studies. No ethical approval was required.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

38_2016_846_MOESM1_ESM.docx (51 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 51 kb)
38_2016_846_MOESM2_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mental Health Policy Unit-Brain and Mind Centre University of Sydney, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Healthy Sydney University, The University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Research and TeachingSant Joan de Deu FoundationBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Spanish Network for Preventive Activities and Health Promotion in Primary Care (redIAPP)BarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.School of PharmacyUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  6. 6.University LibraryUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  7. 7.Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  8. 8.Student Support ServicesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  9. 9.Discipline of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health, Faculty of Health SciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  10. 10.St Andrew’s CollegeThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  11. 11.Royal Prince Alfred HospitalCamperdownAustralia
  12. 12.Sancta Sophia CollegeUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  13. 13.Centre for Disability Research and Policy, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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