Pan-university strategy sought on mental health

With a myriad of mental-health supports and services available to Western students, the only piece missing has been a unifying approach to addressing the issue. But that won’t be the case much longer, promised Jana Luker, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience).

“At Western, across the nation and across North America, the mental-health needs of postsecondary students are paramount, given the increases in supports. There are wonderful programs already happening at Western, which I am a huge proponent of, but what we’re looking for now is something to tie the programs together, to enhance them and go to the next step in student support. That’s the development of the pan-university strategy on mental health,” she explained.

LUKER

LUKER

The framework for this strategy is already in the works, thanks to the Student Mental Health and Wellness Advisory Committee, a national student services group. The group has been looking at a comprehensive mental-health framework in order to devise recommendations to postsecondary institutions on how to develop a consistent mental-health strategy, Luker noted.

“The whole idea is to develop a pan-university mental-health strategy that would be rolled out, and everybody – staff, faculty, students – would have an understanding of how we are to address and better support the mental-health needs of our students,” she said.

The recommendations from the Student Mental Health and Wellness Advisory Committee are currently being finalized. Luker expects the resulting strategy to be laid out shortly on Western’s mental health and wellness website, uwo.ca/health/mental_wellbeing. In the meantime, she has been able to secure funding for a temporary mental-health strategist position, a person who will take the recommendations and work to develop the implementation of the strategy on campus.

“We’ve been able to enhance our programs and supports through the generosity of donors, but also because Western has seen this – a mental-health needs response to students – as a priority. I think all schools are trying to respond in different ways, but our community partnerships, support from all levels of the university, and the development of my portfolio – to have all that, it shows the prioritization,” Luker continued.

As the university waits for a unifying strategy, more supports are popping up on campus, she added. Next month, the Wellness Education Centre will open on the lower level of the University Community Centre, with a hard launch in January once students return from holidays. The space will house a wellness coordinator, the mental-health strategist, as well as a sexual violence education and prevention coordinator – a new position created thanks to a $381,000 grant from the Ontario Women’s Directorate, announced earlier this month.

No doubt sexual violence is tied into mental health, Luker noted, and this position will help to build upon the Building an Upstander Culture to Prevent Sexual Violence at Ontario Post-Secondary Institutions project, a partnership with a dozen Ontario institutions and bodies, designed to build knowledge, skills, attitudes and awareness of sexual violence among all members of campus communities.

Luker is also excited to see a number of student-sponsored mental-health initiatives get support from the University Students’ Council (USC) as a vote to include a student service fee to fund some initiatives passed earlier this week.

One program supported by this fee is the ‘single session therapy’ initiative, piloted on campus last year under Psychological Services. The program brings a specially trained therapist that offers a different, ‘single session’ treatment modality, Luker explained, and over the past year, it has been very successful. As a result, there are currently no wait times in Psychological Services and the USC wants to help maintain this initiative.

“We’re focusing on doing everything a little differently, not just throwing more money at the same thing in the same way, because people learn and heal in different ways, and we want to make sure there’s choice,” Luker said.

“I’m just really excited about it all – it so aligns with my personal values and the values brought forward in the student experience portfolio. Mental health is one of those things everyone understands, and sees the needs for, but our response depends on resources – we’re not short on great ideas.”