Campus groups team up for Mental Wellness day

Mental health has become a buzzword at UW, just behind “innovation” in number of times mentioned. But Counselling Services in partnership with Feds, UW Athletics, the Student Success Office, Health Services, and various other administrative and student groups are making sure that it becomes much more than just words.

Jennifer Yuen, a UW counsellor, and Sandra Gibson, manager of health education at UW, are the co-coordinators of mental health wellness day, taking place Oct. 21.

“We just wanted our students to know that they have a supportive environment and that if they need to utilize that support then they can go to Health Services, Counselling Services, or even off campus,” Gibson said.

A key part of the event involves campus partners, students, staff, and faculty sporting orange shirts with the phrase “1 in 5” written on the back. The shirts are worn to remind those struggling with mental health issues that the UW campus is a supportive environment.

The “1 in 5” on the orange T-shirts refers to the statistic that one in five Canadians will be affected by mental health issues in their lifetime. With a population of around 30,000, that means that approximately 6,000 people at UW have or will be affected.

“Some people will say we do this one day a year, and both Jennifer and I agree; on this campus, mental health is done 365 days a year,” Gibson said, adding that the director of Counselling Services (CS), Dr. Tom Ruttan is on-call for crisis intervention even when CS is closed. Police Services and the Turnkey Desk are both trained to aid a student in crisis.

Yuen said they chose that particular day since midterms have already begun for some students: many may benefit from the mental health resources available on campus but just don’t know how to access them. “Really its just about reminding students that we have supports if they need them,” Yuen said.

In the last year, UW Health Services and CS have been implementing recommendations from a review conducted a few years ago regarding mental health services on campus. One newer change that came out of the review has been an increase of peer to peer support.

“We’re trying to make sure when we do things that it’s evidence based [and] that it’s best practices based so that we’re not just making it up as we go along,” Gibson said. She added that peer support has proven to be an effective way of addressing mental health issues as well as prevention.

Yuen and Gibson have partnered with Good2Talk, a free helpline for post-secondary students seeking help with mental health issues in Ontario. Representatives from the helpline will be on campus to inform students of their resources.

Students, staff, and faculty can also participate in a free spin class in the SLC to promote exercise as a tool for mental wellness.

Gibson said that Feds president Danielle Burt has been a key player in promoting mental wellness resources on campus. Burt included the importance of mental health care in her election platform.

“She has been one of our biggest supporters of this and we couldn’t have done what we’ve done so far without her,” Gibson said.

In response to criticisms over the wait time to see counsellors, Yuen said that mental health care is not a rushed process. The wait times for appointments shows that more students are seeking help, and the stigma associated with mental health issues is slowly disappearing.

One way CS is mitigating wait times is through workshops and group counselling. Yuen said that many new patients are referred to the coping skills seminar after seeing an intake counsellor, and the turnaround time for that is only a day or two.

“That’s something that’s really new and we’re really proud of that because they’re getting the skills they need and the strategies they need in the meantime before they either go to group counselling or individual counselling,” Yuen said.

 “Change is a process and it happens slowly on our campus. So that way it’s done correctly and it’s done with the best intentions, and that’s starting to happen,” Gibson said.


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