Helping students thrive drives new centre

Paul Mayne // Western NewsJennifer Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience), says a $20-million modernization project will bring Health Services and Psychological Services under one roof, allowing students to access medical care, counselling services and wellness education in a single space.


A single point of entry and one ultimate goal – create a campus where all students thrive – are central to the vision of an integrated Health and Wellness Centre, slated to open summer 2021in a newly renovated Thames Hall.

The $20-million modernization project will bring Health Services and Psychological Services under one roof, allowing students to access medical care, counselling services and wellness education in a single space.

While renovations don’t start until early 2019, the two services have already been integrated into the Student Experience portfolio, alongside Sport and Recreation, and Student Learning and Engagement. The move comes in response to feedback gathered in creating the Student Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan, with students expressing frustration navigating a fragmented system.

Paul Mayne // Western NewsThames Hall will soon undergo renovations to become the new Western Health and Wellness Centre, where a suite of services will be available for students.

“The university recognized we needed a cohesive and coordinated approach,” explained Jennifer Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). “That was a big decision, a huge investment and a massive organizational undertaking. By bringing those units all under one umbrella, we are now seeing the fruits of even just this conversation around how they all interrelate.”

The move has fostered a new philosophy of care that recognizes everyone within the Western community has a role to play in student health, including physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental and spiritual wellbeing, she continued.

“The approach Western is taking is very holistic in nature,” Massey said. “We are investing in the Centre and hiring more counselling staff because we recognize that’s important. But so too are we investing in Campus Recreation because we know the intimate relationship between physical health and mental health. We want to have spaces for students to build community, be engaged and physically active.

“We are investing in experiential learning because we understand when students can take what they learn and apply it in settings, they are more engaged in their learning process and start to see clearer pathways for their futures. All these things enhance success.”

Psychological Services now employs a stepped, responsive care model that provides students with an individualized care plan based on their needs. The intensity of the level of care is matched to the complexity of the condition.

“It means we can ‘scale’ mental-health responses in a more cohesive way,” Massey explained. “It is also helpful, because for some students, going to see a counsellor or psychologist is not an appropriate answer. There are cultural reasons or there may be very personal reasons, why that won’t work for them.”

The stepped-care model recognizes a student may not always need to see a counsellor, but one of many different practitioners on campus.

Maybe what you need is an academic plan. Or, if you’re stressed about your career future, let’s get you into one of our career counsellors and talk about that. You’re lonely. Let’s help you build friendships. We want to give students the most empowering response that makes sense for them.”

Massey said, “It’s fluid. You can step up and down the steps of care as the level of intensity changes.”

Another major investment has been the implementation of a shared electronic health record system across Student Health Services, Psychological Services and Resident Counselling.

“This way, students don’t have to keep repeating their story, and only have one place to go,” Massey explained.

The Student Experience portfolio currently allocates approximately $23.5 million annually to mental-health supports for students, including psychologists, medical professionals, health-care specialists and practitioners, therapists, academic counsellors, recreational and academic programs and workshops.

But for Massey, measuring Western’s success in this area goes beyond numbers. It requires a shift in thinking.

“Rather than ask ourselves, ‘How many counsellors do we have?’ I think the conversation needs to be, ‘What is the investment in our student experience?’ Collectively, all of those pieces are about mental health,” Massey said.

“Counsellors, in many respects, are responding to a situation a student has encountered. How do we get to the point where we prevent more students from developing loneliness, and stress and anxiety?  We won’t be able to prevent it for all students, there will always be that need. But I think we can do preventative things.

“I want to make sure we always have the responses when we need them. But I also want to make sure we incrementally need less of them because we have such a thriving campus.”

A wide range of services now comes under the Student Experience umbrella.