2019 Mental Health Forum: Keeping the conversation going

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Erin Kuepfer
Communications Assistant
Mon, 11/11/2019 - 14:00

2019 Thrive Week has come and gone, but its efforts to build positive mental health for UW students remains. Thrive Week featured a variety of awesome events, such as panels, a Harry Potter-themed escape room, therapy dogs, a crocheting circle and more! Among these events was the Student Mental Health Forum.

Hosted by the Committee on Student Mental Health (CoSMH) [external link], the Student Mental Health Forum aimed to update students on the committee's efforts in implementing the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) recommendations. Lots of long names and acronyms, right? Your Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA - just one more!) is here to help break things down and make sure students know about the dedication of PAC-SMH and CoSMH to enhancing student wellness.

What is the Committee on Student Mental Health?

In recent years there has been an overwhelming concern from the student body in relation to the shortcomings of on-campus resources centred around mental health. What resulted from these concerns was the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health. Enacted in 2017, this team of UW students and staff have identified the need for the university to enhance its mental health resources in a variety of areas, such as social support and mental health awareness.

"We are not alone in confronting the issues of mental health and suicide. The struggles, specifically among youth, are present across our country and will continue to require a coordinated effort to address. To that end, we will endeavour to come together as a community to see what more we can do."
- Feridun Hamdullahpur, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Waterloo

In March 2018, PAC-SMH produced a document, “Executive Summary and Recommendations” [external link], that details numerous recommendations and strategies that the university should adopt to address the dire need for strengthened mental health resources.

The CoSMH was then developed in 2018 to ensure that the PAC-SMH recommendations are being met with legitimate action. To do this, the CoSMH has implementation plans in place, which are then discussed and elaborated on at forums such as this one.

Key information from the forum

The two-hour event, taking place in Fed Hall, acted as a thorough look into the efforts of the committee over the past year. For comprehensive insight into the forum check out the livestream [external link]. Otherwise, here is a brief summary of the key points made throughout the duration of the event:

  •  There is no magic solution, but the university wants to provide an open platform for people to engage with issues that concern them. Meaningful conversation is the goal (Feridun Hamdullahpur [external link]). 
  • Activities the CoSMH has been working on since the last forum, which took place in October of 2018 (John P. Hirdes [external link], Professor in School of Public Health and Health Systems):
  • Winter 2019
    • Establish a Mental Health Literacy Training steering committee
    • Participated in Canadian Standards Association/Mental Health Commission of Canada initiative
    • Offer mental health training for new and existing faculty; share clear information about where to refer students for resources  (Recommendation #17)
    • Implement a single platform for on and off campus services and supports; enhance peer support resources (Recommendation #20)
    • Established working group on academic-related recommendations (Recommendation #5)
    • Provide training related to sexual violence to campus healthcare workers (Recommendation #18)
  • Spring 2019
    • Established working group to examine verification of condition process
    • Recommend best practices around exams and evaluations, including scheduling, weighting, deferring exams and confidentiality (Recommendation #5)
    • Collaborative effort between Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and faculties to include universal instructional design in existing and new courses (Recommendation #7)
    • Communicate available support options to students (Recommendation #19)
    • Develop a mental health literacy training strategy, stagger orientation presentations, ensure staff and faculty are aware of supports (Recommendation #22)
  • Fall 2019
    • Review staffing practices and plans in counselling services (Recommendation #27)
    • Develop complex care team and stepped-care approach (Recommendation #32)
  • Upcoming steps
    • 39% (14) of recommendations complete, 33% (12) in progress, 28% pending (10)
    • Actively working on recommendations #12, #14, #25, and #28
  • CoSMH and PAC-SMH are bringing about lasting change, have made meaningful progress, and genuinely care about student well being. University of Waterloo (UW) has a ways to go but is on the right track (Michael Beauchemin, WUSA President)

The conversation is never done

As the forum notes, the conversation on mental health is never done. UWaterloo is dedicated to continually pursuing a positive mental health environment for everyone through the efforts of the CoSMH and PAC-SMH.

Feridun HamdullahpurFeridun Hamdullahpur, UW President and Vice-Chancellor, powerfully stated, “if [the PAC-SMH recommendations] are not at 100% our job is not done. At the day that it is 100% we will continue as if we are just starting. [Mental health] is an issue that took us awhile, not just within the University of Waterloo but other institutions, to acknowledge that there is actually an issue[…]Mental health is not just the issue of those who suffer from it. We need to come together as a community and say ‘we are here for you.’”