The Commission met with University Chaplain Brian Yealland and Professor Heather Stuart, Community Health and Epidemiology.
Mr Yealland talked about the challenges of the 21st century being more of an individualist society vs the collectivist society of the 20th century and the impact of this on an individual’s awareness of their own and others’ mental health, and an apparent lack of willingness to seek help. He said the university needs to be more active in identifying students in need. He said Queen’s has a strong student support model and infrastructure in place and that we need to look at how to enhance what we have. He talked about the role that faculty, front line staff, counselors and peers all play in offering support and referrals.
Dr. Stuart, who is an expert on stigma reduction, talked about the need for a multi-pronged approach that must include literacy/education and stigma-reduction. She spoke about the need for more of these educational programs in medical and nursing schools. She also talked about self-stigma and the benefits of “contact-based education” programs, when people who have experienced illness are trained to go into classrooms and talk about it. She says this is among the most promising practices, as well as structural changes that will protect long-term funding to mental health support systems.
The Commission met with a parent and the areas of discussion included the fact that mental illness can start in high school (or earlier) and education and awareness needs to start there; the factors that can exacerbate someone’s illness are varied and complex – there is a risk of oversimplifying causes; and that everyone’s individual support for a student can collectively have a significant impact so people should offer their help.
Commission members talked about what they have heard so far and started to plot out the current state-of-affairs at Queen’s/Kingston relating to mental health education and services for students, faculty and staff. The discussion was aimed at starting to identify both areas of strength and areas where recommendations could enhance programs, policies and supports.