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Queen's University
 

January 2012 Meetings

January 4, 2012

The Commission met with Dr. Ian Arnold, an occupational health physician from Ottawa who chairs the Workforce Advisory Committee ofCanada’s Mental Health Commission.

Dr. Arnold provided a comprehensive overview of the purpose and work of the Commission and the leadership of Senators Michael Kirby andWilbert Keon.

We discussed the importance of ensuring a mental health strategy is built on fundamentals that include mental health as a critical element of a healthy community, expressed explicitly by that community; andthat any strategy be based on the principle of Continuous Quality Improvement - i.e. Plan, Do, Study, Act.

We also discussed programs and certification of peer support; development of national standards on workplace psychological health and safety and their application to a university; mental health and safety content in educational programs, including in the non-health sciences disciplines; mental health first aid; summer orientation for students and parents and the role of parents.

January 11, 2012

The Commission met with a group of Academic Advisors from several faculties and schools who talked about student stress factors and offered some ideas about how the university could help ease anxiety.

The topics included: program structures, intensity, timing and requirements; the role, expectations and involvement of parents; helping students learn how to manage their finances; when and how to provide ‘University 101’ information, exam accommodations, tutoring and the value of proactive academic-based advising and monitoring.

January 18, 2012

The Commission spoke to graduate student Alex Rosenblat about her research into new security-based processes at the Canada-US border that can increase stigma about mental illness. She reports that she has found that police records that may flag mental illness can be shared with border control and this can cause individuals to be denied entry to the US.

The Commission also met with a second group of academic advisors from across campus who talked about the factors they see as contributing to student stress, including academic scheduling, exams, competition, unrealistic expectations and parents. They also made suggestions for helping to mitigate the risk of illness and promote well-being. These include: a year-round exam centre, more recreational opportunities, a central academic advising function, increased awareness about academic advising resources and support services, off-campus peer advisers, early outreach to students who may be struggling and defining the positive role parents can play in their children’s university lives.

January 25, 2012

The Commission met with a third group of academic advisors. The discussion touched many topics, including training for staff, varying levels of resources within faculties and schools to provide mental health-related service, the need for a case management approach to support students with academic difficulties and mental health issues, a fall reading week and how to compensate for it, “how to be a student” courses/session for first-years and the effectiveness of various timing options to deliver that information (before they arrive, during Orientation Week etc.), year-round academic opportunities to help “ease the load,” timetabling, accommodations, tutoring and centralized advising services.


Meeting of University Senate - January 24, 2012

Commissioners attended the regular meeting of University Senate. Senators broke into three groups during an informal session to discuss three questions.

Group 1: How might academic structure and design contribute to, or mitigate, student stress?

Factors:

  • GPA system – there’s now a big difference between 89 and 90%
  • Scheduling of classes and exams: more coordination needed. Need faculty members to engage cooperatively even if this causes the faculty members stress.
  • Class sizes: does this cause stress or alienation?
  • Tone of communications to students: are official docs too official? Many faculty members are approachable, friendly and this is contrasted with syllabi – which can seem rigid, overbuilt.
  • Email burden on faculty: burns lots of hours.
  • Intimidation among first year students – where do we learn to be undergraduates? Mostly trial and error, mostly error. What about instruction/prep for undergraduates before they get the material?
  • Graduate and doctoral students: the belief that evaluation is constant – interpret when a faculty member who doesn’t say hi back in the hallway as a “signal”
  • International students: Cognitive burden as well as new culture, new language, day to day practices – disagreeing with peers/faculty may be culturally really hard

Solutions:

  • Exam scheduling
  • Contact workarounds beyond email – to be more human, humane
  • Safe and responsive places for study, longer term learning
  • How to complain safely?
  • Grading scheme to be considered
  • Consider stress among faculty and staff as well as students.

Group 2: How can role of academic advisors be optimized?

The group defined "academic advisor" as anyone in a department who advises students – but then expanded the discussion to all faculty members. The group found that:

  • They all need to take a more proactive role. Some faculty members wait for students to come to them. It can take a lot for a student to ask for help. This can be done through more training – e.g. Mental Health First Aid – get more faculty to do it
  • Raise awareness of all the various resources – a triage system of support. The professor recognizes an issue – expand the circle to include peer counseling, and professional counseling – make sure people are aware of the resources
  • Not all students with mental health issues show academic deficiencies. How else can an issue be recognized? E.g. program atOttawa U – if first-year student doesn’t do well in mid term, the university contacts them to inquire and talk about resources available.

Group 3: Should mental health literacy be a desired faculty and staff competency?

There is a desire among faculty to be aware, but what is the goal: it is literacy? Or is it sensitivity and awareness – there is a big difference.

Training – a little knowledge can be a bad thing.

What about an online resource page for faculty that would include:

  1. Information on where to send students
  2. How to respond to requests for accommodations – paperwork etc
  3. How to respond to a comment a student makes that may flag a risk

For some faculty, no training may be enough – e.g. a faculty member who denies a request for accommodation in the event of a parents’ death.

Do we have quick response ombudsperson – e.g. Faculty of Law’s equity officer. Can this be made consistent?

What about a mental health liaison person in each department/faculty – What if a certain amount of time at each faculty/dept meeting was spent to flag issues/students?

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