One-stop mental health support centre in the works

THAMES HALL

Western will house medical and counselling services under one roof, at Thames Hall, in an integrated health-and-wellness centre that will offer more co-ordinated mental health supports to students.

“Over the past number of years, we’ve been working on the development of Western’s Mental Health Strategic Plan, consulting with the campus community. One of the things we hear most from students is how challenging it can be to navigate a fragmented system for mental health and wellness services on our campus,” said Rick Ezekiel, interim Senior Director (Student Experience).

Western currently has a wide range of different services, but they are situated in different units and located in different places across the campus, he added.

“Students, when they are in distress and struggling with a mental health challenge, can often find the system confusing and overwhelming.”

The Mental Health Strategic Plan, which goes to Senate this week, developed as a result of campus consultation and an external, commissioned review of Western’s health and wellness services. That review offered a number of recommendations for Western to improve how it provided health and wellness services to the student body, Ezekiel explained.

The university is already moving forward with two key initiatives:

The first is the pilot launch that will see shared electronic health records among representatives from Student Health Services, Psychological Services, and Residence Counselling, with anticipated full implementation this summer.

The second is the integration of Western’s health and wellness services into a co-located Health and Wellness Centre at the university, in response to students’ need.

“The key services that will be included in that centre will be Student Health Services and Psychological Services. What we are looking to do, as we move to an integrated Health and Wellness Centre, is really to have three core arms of service provided there – a medical group, a counselling group (with some crossover between those two) and a wellness education group that focuses on the health promotion side of things,” Ezekiel said.

The new centre –  to be located in Thames Hall following renovations expected to start next year – will also house Western’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator as well as case managers, he added.

“The main goal is to get to a place where we have a single point of entry to health and wellness services on our campus, so students have one door to go through, whether they have the flu or they are struggling with a mental illness.”

Integrating mental health and physical health services is essential in meeting the needs of the student body, Ezekiel explained. Physicians are often the first point of contact for a student experiencing a mental health challenge and the new centre would provide an accessible point of entry for counseling support.

“You can’t really divorce physical health from mental health and wellbeing. A student might be seeking ongoing support for a physical illness but that need could be driven by a chronic mental health challenge,” he noted. “If we have these shared care teams and models, it really streamlines our ability to identify and refer where necessary and get at the root source of poor wellness, whether it is physical or mental health.”

The new model addresses student wellness as a full range of physical and mental needs and services.

“A key component, as we move to this model, will be maintaining strong collaboration with other services that promote wellness across our campus or address some of the key sources of stress of some of our students,” Ezekiel continued.

Academic counsellors, career counsellors and financial services would all be points of contact as the university moves to provide co-ordinated, thoughtful support to students living with such stressors.

This model of health and wellness services will better serve students dealing with acute mental health challenges, as well as situations in which more critical and immediate support might be necessary, he added.

“We know, like every other college and university across North America, sexual violence is an issue that impacts our students. We also know students coming to university with experiences of historical violence in childhood present some real challenges with mental health and wellness on our campus,” Ezekiel said.

“I think it’s critical we identify the centre as the point of contact for students so they can access timely supports after experiencing trauma and violence. A colleague who provides support (for survivors of sexual violence) is embedded in that service model and will support them and serve as a referral point to counseling and medical services and ongoing supports for students in need,” he explained.

“For a student who is really struggling to reach out for help, who is concerned with the stigma associated with mental health challenges – which is still real on our campus and in our society – this (integrated) service model eliminates some of the pressure that might come with going to an isolated psychological services unit,” Ezekiel said.

“A student could be going to the centre seeking help because they have a cold, or they could be going for psychological or psychiatric help. Hopefully, this model will reduce some of the reluctance that can exist in reaching out for help.”

The Thames Hall renovation project, recently approved by Western’s Board of Governors, will house a purpose-built, integrated Health and Wellness Centre, said Janice Deakin, Provost & Vice-President (Academic).

“This project will result in a single point of entry for health and wellness services on our campus. We are confident this exciting project will enhance our ability to serve students’ mental and physical health needs in an accessible, effective and responsive manner,” she noted.

Following renovations, Thames Hall will also house the School of Kinesiology and general-use student spaces. Planning efforts will be under way through 2018, with construction anticipated to start in spring of 2019.

The Sports and Recreation facilities housed in Thames Hall will be relocated to both Alumni Hall and the Western Student Recreation Centre (WSRC). Construction of an additional WSRC gym to increase capacity will begin in early April.

NEED HELP?

  • During daytime hours, weekdays, contact Psychological Services, 4th floor Student Services Building, 519-661-3031; Student Health Services, UCC Room 11, at 519-661-3030; or Campus Community Police Service, 911 from a campus phone or 519-661-3300 from a cell phone;
  • Reach 24-hour phone crisis help at 519-433-2023; Good 2 Talk Helpline for post-secondary students at 1-866-925-5454; Campus Community Police Service, 911 from a campus phone or 519-661-3300 from cell; First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help at 1-855-242-3310; or Bell Let’s Talk at kidshelphone.ca or 1-800-668-6868;
  • In residence at rezlife.uwo.ca/mental.cfm
  • Or visit the Health and Wellness website.
  • Unsure of where to go? Visit the Wellness Education Centre in University Community Centre Rm. 76, Monday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. where staff will help you map out your wellness journey at Western.