The Commission met with Wayne Myles, Director, Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) and Susan Anderson, Assistant Director, QUIC, as well as David Patterson, Director, Campus Security.
Mr. Myles and Ms. Anderson said QUIC has been responding to mental health issues among international students and exchange students since the Centre was established 50 years ago. There are various aspects of the experiences of these students that can be stressful and increase the risk of mental illness, including cultural transition and adjustment, the particular host environment, travel-related difficulties and immigration-related requirements. They also raised the needs of students born/living in Canada, but whose families live elsewhere in the world. Theyspoke of the importance of mental health awareness-raising, and education, and the need for more intercultural communications awareness and training. Theyalso talked about the importance of maintaining unprogrammed spaces on campus where students feel comfortable just hanging out.
Mr. Patterson said Queen’s emergency response protocols are very well developed. He talked about the comprehensive first-responder services that Campus Security staff provide to students in crisis, the importance ofstaff training in Mental Health First Aid and the quality of that program. He noted the importance of sharing relevant information among responders (security, Health, Counselling and Disability Services, Residence staff etc). This helps to ensure students in distress are responded to quickly and appropriately.
The Commission discussed the timeline of its work and is considering holding some forums in the new year with a framework to give people something to respond to.
Commissioners met with Irene Bujara and Stephanie Simpson of the Human Rights and Equity offices. The discussion included the connections between mental health and human rights issues, and a noted rise in peer bullying, especially in electronic form, and the impact that can have on a student’s experience. They also spoke about the need to provide more education and tools to faculty and staff to help them respond to their obligations under human rights legislation, specifically the obligation to inquire.
The Commission also met with the Faculty of Law’s Associate Dean (Academic) Stan Corbett, Helen Connop, Manager, Education & Equity Services and student Erin Smith. They talked about the faculty’s student support model. Customer-oriented service is provided through Ms Connop, including a peer tutoring program and day-one messages that law school is stressful and Ms Connop is the go-to person for everything and anything. Ms Smith said that normalizing the need for support (academic or personal) reduces stigma and promotes success.
The Commissioners spoke with Acting University Registrar Teresa Alm, Learning and Development Specialist Shannon Hill fromQueen’s HR and an alumnus who talked about his experience with mental illness.
The discussion with Ms Alm focused on the connections that staff in the Office of the Univeristy Registrar (OUR) make with Health, Counselling and Disability Services and faculty offices, and the need to balance privacy against ensuring that students are directed to services. OUR staff receive regular training in recognizing signs of mental health-related distress and this helps the Office facilitate support for students. Ms Alm suggested ways that more “cross-checks” could be done across the campus to flag students who might benefit from some outreach.
Ms Hill talked about recently expanded wellness initiatives offered through Human Resources for staff and the need for the university to continue to recognize the importance of supporting staff mental health at multiple levels. She identified opportunities for further awareness and training that can ensure staff are equipped to respond effectively to students and colleagues.
The Commission spoke with Sarosh Khalid-Khan, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Hotel Dieu Hospital, and a group of faculty members in the Psychology Department.
Dr. Khalid-Khan spoke to the developmental perspective when it comes to responding to students requiring accommodation – how anxiety-reduction may well start in childhood. She talked about the need toensure departments are aware of how to respond to requests for classroom and academic accommodations. She also pointed Commissioners to the Evergreen framework (PDF 1.01 MB), a part of which is being piloted in local schools.
The discussion with the faculty members in Psychology focused on the research being done in the department that could assist the Commission. The professors said early adulthood is the peak period for the onset of mental illness. Early identification and anti-stigma education are key to responding effectively and possible programs for both were discussed. They also spoke to the need for, and challenges of implementing, continuity of care when students arrive at Queen’s with pre-existing illness.
The Commission met with four senior residence dons and Arig Girgrah, Assistant Dean, Student Affairs. The Commission also met with Jeanette Parsons, Disability Services Advisor, Health, Counselling and Disability Services.
The Dons spoke about the need for ongoing anti-stigma efforts and how best to normalize asking for help. The discussion also covered the value of one-on-one support from Dons, mentors and professionals on campus, how to raise awareness among first-years of the supports available, the pros and cons of a Fall Reading Week, the importance of supporting good study and time-management skills, and the benefits of all of the community-building that goes on in residence.
Ms Parsons explained that 32% of students registered with the Disability Services Office (DSO) have self-identified as having some form of mental health issue, making this the largest group of students withdisabilities registered. The office manages the intersection of academics and the accommodation of students with disabilities and the discussion includedresources, faculty involvement and an increasing demand for longer-term accommodation-related support for these students.