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