Breaking down barriers

Working together to address ‘immense’ mental health needs

At Queen’s University in Kingston,Ont., a “Caring Campus Project” is working to reduce risks associated with poor mental health and substance misuse among first-year male students while also creating a more supportive campus environment.

In Oshawa, Durham College students are encouraged to download a HealthyMinds app, a problem-solving tool to help them deal with emotions and cope with the stresses they’ll encounter both on and off campus.

Both are among a growing number of examples of mental health initiatives undertaken by universities and colleges across the province and are also among the many initiatives shared on the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (CICMH) website (


As post-secondary institutions across the country and beyond cope with an “epidemic” of students seeking mental health services, sharing such initiatives is a huge step forward. “There are probably many reasons why students are seeking support and the first is that they’re suffering and struggling,” says Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario.

It’s playing a lead role in running the CICMH in partnership with Colleges Ontario, the Council of Ontario Universities, the College Student Alliance and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and is funded by the provincial government’s Mental Health Innovation Fund.

Until recently, post-secondary institutions have largely been working in isolation and haven’t been properly evaluating the success of the mental health services they offer, says Glenda MacQueen, vice dean of the Cumming School of Medicine at Alberta’s University of Calgary.


The CICHM and B.C.’s Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses are breaking down those barriers. By sharing best practices, universities and colleges don’t need to constantly reinvent the wheel and can focus their resources on helping students.

Through a multi-disciplinary community of campus service providers, the CICMH will share best practices and improve mental health services for students while also enhancing support for frontline staff.

Quenneville spoke with one professor, for example, who admitted he was unsure what he would do if faced with a potentially suicidal student. “That’s not to say every prof needs to become a psychologist — it’s quite the opposite,” she says.

“Every prof just needs to be armed with information about how to handle those situations. In some cases it’s training and in some cases it’s literally just having the information … We hope the council can really move mountains in terms of sharing best practice information and insights into what works well and how we can transfer knowledge across these institutions.”

In the meantime, Quenneville applauds post-secondary institutions for coming together to tackle this important issue. “I think the heroes in all of this are the colleges and universities,” she says. “They’re very distinct sectors yet in this cause they’ve come together to partner with us because they know how immense the need is.”


Why are students struggling?

Today’s students have a greater awareness of mental health than previous generations and that awareness opens the door to a greater willingness to discuss issues like anxiety and depression, Glenda MacQueen, vice dean of the Cumming School of Medicine at Alberta’s University of Calgary.

But the world is also arguably very different for today’s students. “The system demands students manage multiple priorities that compete for their time,” she says. That could include a part-time job and extracurricular activities so they’re better prepared to apply to graduate school.

“There’s a sense that not only do you need to be academically on top of everything but you need a long list of other activities that ideally includes having started your own NGO (non-governmental organization) and cured a disease or two,” MacQueen says facetiously.

“These kids look around and know what it takes to get that next thing and that’s more than marks.”

Retrieved from the Toronto Sun, and written by Linda White.

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