The Commission met with Dr. Roumen Milev, head of the Department of Psychiatry, and with representatives of the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA).
Dr. Milev noted changes in societal expectations of university-aged individuals, the increased pace of life and commitments in modern life and the impact of all of the transitions that are experienced when one leaves home for university that can lead to mental distress. He talked about the need to consider how student health services can be better linked and integrated to community resources. Dr. Milev suggested a division could be created within his department for student mental health and addictions thatcould provide multi-disciplinary clinical services, curriculum development and teaching opportunities, and develop a leading research agenda.
Representatives from QUFA talked about internal and external factors that can affect student mental health. They expressed the need for faculty to accommodate students and suggested increased faculty TA awareness, trained peer contacts in faculties and school who could act as resources for faculty members (like we have trained First Aid/CPR “go-to” people), a clear, quick and central referral system and broader education programs for the campus community.
They suggested using the word “stress” instead of “mental illness” may be helpful because “stress” is a less-stigmatized word.
They emphasized the need for early identification and promoting the university’s policies, programs and response processes consistently every year as new students come in. They also identified the need for the whole response system, on campus and off, to be better connected sothat students are given the best care and support.
The Commission spoke with Drs. Suzanne Billing, Steph Dallaire and Steve McNevin of HCDS, with Disability Services Advisor Jeanette Parsons and with Geneviève Rochon-Terry, ASUS Equity Officer.
Topics of discussion with Drs. Billing, Dallaire and McNevin included the challenge in early identification of students with mental health issues because they can be very good actors/actresses so self-identification is critical, but fear of stigma can stop them. They recommend more education for faculty members and TAs so they knew how best to respond to people who are asking for accommodations or assistance.
It was noted that the “system” (OSAP, scholarships etc) makes it hard for someone to temporarily pull back a bit academically, (e.g. drop a course) when this stress reduction tactic may be exactly what is needed to help a student get and feel better.
The doctors talked about a need for better links within the health care community for the treatment of eating disorders, for example, and a more interdisciplinary team model. They also spoke of the efficacy of tailored-to-student and on campus group therapy options.
They suggested the physical setup of HCDS, with healthservices on the main floor and counseling on the second floor is problematic and they made reference to the particular stressors and incidence of mentalhealth issues among international students.
Ms Parsons talked about the need to look at the allocation of the provincial grant that funds disability services – it hasn’t been increased since the 1980s and as the population of students seeking accommodations grows, more resources are required to directly advise, support and follow up with students with accommodation plans.
She also suggested enhancing the positive collaborations between disability services, the faculties and schools and the exam centre.
Ms Rochon-Terry provided highlights of a student survey ASUS did at the corner of Union St. and University Ave., where they handed out hot chocolate and asked students about their experiences and suggestions for better mental-health related supports. The students said:
The Commission met with Associate Dean Hugh Horton, Associate Dean David Pugh and Academic Advisor Sue Blake from the Faculty of Arts and Science and with Vicky Huehn, Executive Director, Frontenac Community Mental Health Services (FCMHS).
The conversation with Arts and Science included more consistent approaches to accommodations, the stigma that exists that may prevent students from agreeing to an accommodation that affects their transcript, the need for a case management approach, and the pros and cons of starting the academic year earlier and implementing a Fall Reading Week.
Ms Huehn outlined the community-based services that FCMHS provides to Kingston residents, including Queen’s students. She spoke of ways to increase the links between on-campus and off-campus supports that would allow Queen’s and students to tap in to the resources that are available. This includes after-hours crisis response, education and ongoing recovery support.
The Commission met with Dr. Margo Rivera, Director of Psychotherapy, Department of Psychiatry, with Roxy Denniston-Stewart, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and with Dr. Arunima Khanna, Cross-cultural Counselor, HCDS.
Dr. Rivera spoke about the various support and skill-building group programs (including distress tolerance and managing powerful emotions) offered by the department and the need, in some cases, to tailor them to students and deliver them on campus.
Ms Denniston-Stewart offered ideas to support prevention and recognition of mental heath issues and effective responses. In the area of prevention, she stressed the importance of encouraging daily exercise, providing tools for parents and peers to help them raise their concerns, “normalizing” mental health in university materials, and looking at ways to smooth out the workload for students over a term.
In the area of recognition, she suggested mandatory meetings with faculty andor academic advisors for students who are failing/missing classes or assignments. She talked about a goal of providing some mental health literacy to all members of the Queen’s community. She also suggested education programs and on-line tools could be developed and shared across the PSE sector.
Regarding effective responses, she suggested the university could formalize its relationships with community partners who provide support and response services to students, develop a protocol for students at risk and continue to lobby the provincial government for changes to student health care funding.
Dr. Khanna, who has worked as the university’s cross-cultural advisor for the past decade, identified sub-groups of students who may be particularly vulnerable to stress. These include international students, students with families as well as Canada-born students whose first language is not English and whose language skills may not be as good as expected, which can affect their university experience. She suggested The Writing Centre may be able to play a role.
She also recommended offering a course in cross-cultural and citizenship skills, as well as an “introduction to university.”
Dr. Khanna also identified need to identify and address the impact of “microaggressions” and “microinvalidations” of racialized students by individuals who are well-intentioned but may not recognize they are sendingnegative messages to others through unconsciously biased or harmful comments or reactions. These are subtle, but pervasive and can be detrimental to one’s mental health.
The commission met with several members of the Student Counselling Service in Health, Counselling and Disability Services.
The conversation focused on ways to encourage students to find work-life balance and how the university can articulate this value andmodel it through changes to systems and structures, for example – not keeping the library open 24 hours, and trying to provide students with a more consistent rhythm to their day that includes downtime. The pace of society/life is evermore faster/better and there is a cultural shift that needs to occurthat’s bigger than Queen’s.
Other ideas included a buddy system, peer mentoring, changes to Orientation Week, a continued focus on mental health education and training, and a process to help students leave university when they need to and reenter when they’re ready.