Acknowledging that mental health is essential to students’ academic success and their overall experience at university, a landmark U of T report is calling on all members of the U of T community to help support students’ wellness.
The University of Toronto Student Mental Health Strategy and Framework, released late last year, recommends the university take a “systems approach” to mental health – focusing not just on health and wellness services and programs but also on ensuring that conditions throughout the entire university enable students to flourish. “A systems approach looks at the whole student,” says Jill Matus, chair of the committee, “and recognizes that different supports are needed for different students.”
A year in the making, the report groups 22 recommendations into five priority areas:
Ensuring that all students are aware of the programs and services available to them. Crucially, this also means conveying that it’s OK to ask for help.
Developing programs to promote positive mental health and resilience among students. This could include providing more opportunities for students to build a sense of community, especially in larger classes, and to develop good coping skills.
Educating students, staff and faculty about mental health and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. To this end, course materials could encourage students to seek help for mental health issues, without fear of judgment or repercussions. Faculty and teaching assistants would be trained to identify students in distress and refer them to the appropriate resources.
Assessing the effectiveness of all programs related to mental health, with input from students wherever possible.
Using community resources outside of the university to help meet the full spectrum of students’ health needs.
In developing its recommendations, the Provostial Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health – composed of more than 50 staff, faculty and students – interviewed some 250 U of T students, drew on expertise from across faculties, colleges and departments, and visited other universities to identify best practices.
“There was a tremendous energy,” Lucy Fromowitz, assistant vice-president of student life, says of the committee. “People understood the importance of the issue we were tackling and were very interested in finding solutions.”