Western Health and Wellness has moved to a new home, consolidating all services under one roof in the freshly renovated Thames Hall.
The $20-million renovation project, driven by Western’s Student Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Plan, aims to help students thrive personally, socially and academically. Having a single intake point for medical care, counselling services and wellness and equity education is a significant aspect of the centre’s holistic, responsive care model, according to Craig Cunningham, manager, mental health services.
“It is important, from a student perspective, in providing effective, timely, safe, evidence-based care,” Cunningham said. “Having all health services under one roof with our case management team, as well as our equity education team, is also important from a collaborative standpoint, just being in the space to talk with our colleagues.”
The integrated, centralized centre houses the following services:
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
- Student Support and Case Management
- Wellness and Equity Education
- Student Emergency Response Team (SERT)
- Family Practice Clinic
Mental health support includes individual counselling, crisis counselling, group care and workshops. The modernization of Thames Hall is slated to be complete by the end of February. The project also includes refurbished office, teaching and research space for the school of kinesiology. The kinesiology teaching labs will be in use when students return at the end of January, with rest of the school moving into the building during reading week.
Shorter wait times, timely care
Providing timely care “is vitally important,” Cunningham said, and an issue his team has worked hard to address in the past 18 months.
“We really pride ourselves on listening to students, so when we heard the wait times were far too long and there wasn’t enough immediate support on campus, we changed that,” he said. “We set a goal for our wait times to be 72 hours and under from when a student calls to when they’re booked in with a mental health counsellor. Overall, we’ve been able to meet that target.” Same-day appointments, however, are available for students in immediate crisis, Cunningham added. The addition of evening appointments increased access to these services, as did adding more group sessions.
“Not all students need that individual one-on-one support,” Cunningham said, noting there are currently nine (virtual) support groups running for the winter term. “We also have a range of workshops for students. One workshop covers the range of mental health supports available, while others focus on factors that can impact mental wellness, including perfectionism; procrastination; motivation; mind/body wellness skills; imposter syndrome; sleep hygiene; and digital fatigue.”
Other group care offerings include Journey Together, a support group for Black and racialized students, and TRANSCENDING, a 10-week, skills-based therapy group for trans and gender-diverse individuals.
“We also introduced a coping with grief and loss support group last term in direct response to students calling in looking for that type of support,” Cunningham said. “We rely on that feedback and input from our student associations and our colleagues across campus to help identify emerging needs, because it does ‘take a village.’
“This work is ongoing, and a big piece is destigmatizing mental health challenges and I think we’re getting better at that.”
Calm, inviting environment
The new space was designed with elements that foster health and well-being and includes a three-storey atrium and a living wall.
A centralized commons area features both quiet areas for reflection, and generous open spaces where students can gather and foster connections.
“We wanted to create an inviting space,” Cunningham said. “Natural light is the biggest piece, especially from a mental-health perspective. We know how important light is to mood. Light coming in through skylights and the courtyard terrace brings more light into the offices and counselling spaces.”
Diverse, inclusive perspectives
Part of providing a welcoming space for all members of the campus community has been ensuring there is diversity reflected in the counselling staff, in addition to the centre’s programming.
“Black and racialized students who are experiencing race-related stress can request to speak with counsellors who are themselves persons of these communities with lived experience,” Cunningham said.
There are also several counsellors with expertise in providing services to students in the LGBTTIQQ2SA+ communities, who can help with issues involving coming out, family matters, isolation, and dealing with queerphobia on campus.
“It’s about feeling safe in a space, feeling comfortable and doing whatever we can to help provide an environment that is ultimately going to help students connect and engage with supports and services,” Cunningham said.
All appointments for the Western Health and Wellness services are free of charge and can be booked in advance by calling 519-661-3030.