Providing mental health services for LGBTQ+ students on campus

CICMH Spotlight Interview Kathryn Dance and Chérie Moody from Western University

We chatted with Kathryn Dance, Acting Director of Psychological Services, Student Experience at Western University, and with Chérie Moody, Psychology Resident at Psychological Services, regarding their approach to providing mental health services for LGBTQ+ students on campus.


1) Why is it important to provide mental health services to LGBTQ+ students on campus?

Kathryn and Chérie: University students are experiencing an important developmental time in their lives in general, involving moving away from home, starting university, and many other challenges. When adding on sexual orientation or gender identity exploration/determination it can become an even more challenging time and students may need a bit of extra support.

Research shows that LGBTQAI2s+ experience higher rate of depressions, anxiety, suicidality and other mental health concerns compared to heterosexual and cisgender individuals. These higher rates are due to minority stress (i.e. short and long terms stress of being LGBTQ+ in our homophobic, biphobic and transphobic world). Also, different forms of oppression intersect with LGBTQ+ discrimination such as colonization or racism, thus increasing student’s experiences of minority stress. Given these added challenges, research shows that LGBTQ+ students on campus use mental health services at a higher rate then cis and heterosexual students.

As a result, we feel it’s important to have LGBTQ+ student’s mental health on our radar and offer competent and affirmative services.


2) How can campuses ensure that their mental health services are inclusive of all students, including LGBTQ+ and other groups?

Kathryn and Chérie: Training of campus staff is extremely important. Student Experience portfolio at Western University has developed an anti-oppressive practice training for all campus staff, not only the counselling staff. It’s a recognition that at a systemic level being more inclusive is important.

In terms of mental health services specifically, it is crucial for mental health providers to have an explicitly LGBTQIA2s+ affirmative approach and to be open about it. This also includes an intersectional, anti-oppression and anti-racism approach to their mental health work.

Multicultural competencies training is also essential and we feel that Derald Wing Sue’s multicultural competencies model is a great starting point. It’s useful for mental health providers to adopt some of these approaches and seek out relevant training.

For instance, Rainbow Health Ontario offers great trainings across Ontario for various kind of work with LGBTQ+ individuals within both physical and mental health contexts.


3) How are you engaging the students?

Kathryn and Chérie: It’s a challenge in every area of providing services on campus. Students have to find information regarding service offering among a million others that are provided to them.

We feel it’s important to have an online presence and advertisement, including posters on campus and being active on social media. One of Chérie’s initiatives –  UniQ SupporT (an intersectional and affirmative psychoeducation and support group) is an example of visibility on campus for our services for LGBTQIA2s+ students. It’s important, not only for the LGBTQ+ students, but also for everyone to see that these services are being offered, which helps create a more inclusive climate on campus.

It’s also important to develop a relationship with student leaders from LGBTQ+ student groups on campus. This helps us to be in touch with student needs and keep offering helpful services


4) What are the lessons learned from Western University’s approach to LGBTQ+ mental health services and what are your plans for the future?

Kathryn and Chérie: We started out by offering peer support programs and gradually moved away from that model since it pre-dated other student groups like Pride Western. As more student’s organizations were created to support LGBTQ+ student needs, there seems to be less desire to have peer to peer support as it was offered through Psychological Services. Also, we observed that there is now more comfort with seeking mental health support, possibly as a result of developing expertise among campus staff.

We need to continuously adapt and create new services according to the evolving needs of the LGBTQ+ community. As for our next steps, we are looking at developing competencies for trans health care including mental health on campus. Conversations have started involving student groups, health services and some of us from Psychological Services to begin to identify what capacities the counselling staff and other staff on campus need to develop to do that work effectively.

To conclude, we think that there are several important reasons and rewards to offer LGBTQ+ specific mental health services on campus. Research shows that LGBTQ+ student’s well being and mental health are positively impacted by the presence of groups, resources, organizations and LGBTQ+ specific services on campus. We think these services not only add to the overall campus climate but it also sends a very clear message that LGBTQ+ students are important and they can seek out and receive helpful and respectful care.


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