A new investment in student mental-health will enhance programming and add or secure as many as nine dedicated staffing positions thanks to a joint effort between Western and its student body.
“Students have been asking for more investment in student support for some time,” said Jennie Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). “All of us are committed to being part of the solution to student wellbeing. All of us are partners in ensuring that happens.”
The $800,000-investment is comprised of $400,000 from the student body through an additional $12 in student fees annually and a dollar-for-dollar match from Western. The university pledge to add $400,000 to its base budget, conditional on student buy-in, was made by then-Provost Janice Deakin as part of the university’s mental-health strategy.
The money will be used in part to support:
- Faster access to mental-health services, in part by using master’s-level therapists to triage students and connect them with resources within the university or broader community. Three years ago, about 350 people were on a waiting list at any given time. Today, a student who connects with the Student Development Centre for psychological services will have a first appointment in about a week, Massey said.
- Enhanced capacity to meet the need for single-session therapy for those who need it;
- Creation of a crisis team with the intent to offer extended hours for students in crisis;
- Wellness Education Centre, which connects students with health and wellness services, including peer support. The Centre was funded initially with donor money;
- Expanded sexual- and gender-based violence prevention programming, and more support for survivors;
- Integrated Indigenous teachings into programs, resources and supports;
- Enhanced education and training for students about mental-health literacy, resilience and thriving;
- More online tools and resources to help students;
- A doubling of case-management capacity, which will help co-ordinate support for students across academic, social, psychological and medical spheres; and
- Streamlined communications available to students about available resources.
Some of the positions and programs have already been in place as short-term- or one-time-funded initiatives. “We’ve been able to use some donor money and some grant money to pilot some best practices, and now we’re looking to stabilize that investment,” Massey said.
In addition, Western is on its way to moving, expanding and consolidating student health and wellness supports at a newly renovated Thames Hall. “We’re making $800,000 go a really long way,” she said.
Mitchell Pratt, President of University Students’ Council, said the programs mesh well with bringing the university’s Mental Health Strategic Plan to fruition.
“Mental health needs to have holistic vision,” he said, and that includes bringing together a range of services across a variety of portfolios. “I’m excited to see how this continues to shape the next few years at Student Experience.”
Pratt echoed Massey’s support for cultivating a ‘thriving’ model that offers structure and strategies for healthy, happy student experiences. “I always say to students, ‘In high school, you grow physically. As an undergrad, you grow emotionally.’”
Mary Blake Rose, President of the Society of Graduate Students, said the proposed fee increase was scrutinized by the Student Services Committee to ensure it would provide maximum benefit to students.
She said, “Student fees exist for a reason. If a modest student-services fee increase is being used to enhance student services, to address gaps in the services that exist, it was well worth considering.”
Two elements – reducing wait times for counselling and support for a gender violence and healthy sexuality co-ordinator – are particularly important, she said.
Student mental health has to be on everyone’s radar, beyond the undergraduate years, she said. Graduate students have their own stresses that include financial strain, teaching and academic challenges and uncertainty about their job futures, she said.
“Students can find that they’re not thriving at any stage of their academic trajectory.”
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