UWindsor mental health strategy released at first Campus Health Day
International student Harmanvir Singh remembers the difficulties he faced upon arriving in Windsor back in January — walking around in snowshoes for the first time, having to find a part-time job on short notice, language barriers and loneliness.
“It was very tough because settling in here is a big task. I didn’t know anyone in Windsor.”
Today, things have changed for Singh. He volunteers for Living Well Lancers, a club which raises awareness about mental health and wellness to students.
On Wednesday, the group organized the University of Windsor’s inaugural Campus Health Day, which saw the public launch of a new strategy outlining 39 recommendations for improving student wellness — called the Student Mental Health Strategy.
The recommendations refer to topics such as wellness promotion, suicide prevention and looking at student experiences from the lenses of Indigenous, LGBTQ and international students.
Making connections to improve mental health
Singh said the isolation he experienced when he first moved to Windsor began to disappear after he sent an email to Ashley Voderak, the university’s mental health and wellness coordinator.
“She replied me back with events coming up. We had four events in the past month and it was really amazing,” said Singh, adding campus events have allowed him to connect with the university community.
“I don’t have words. I’m gonna’ cry a little. That’s beautiful. That’s what we want for this,” said Vodarek. “To know that students feel as if they’re home is exactly what we’re hoping for.
Voderak, a graduate of the University of Windsor, said it’s nice to see that mental health has been brought to the forefront of the student community.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to see that people are able to come out now for mental health days and about their own mental health and feel comfortable and interested,” said Vodarek.
She said the Student Mental Health Strategy was put together with the “student voice” in mind, adding its development was a “three-year process.”
International students included in strategy
Yagnesh Parikh said the Campus Health Day addressed the mental health concerns of international students, as a way of helping them cope with the stresses of living far away from home.
“It’s a different environment for the international students — new language, new people.”
Upon moving to Windsor, Parikh found accommodations were hard to find because he “didn’t have any local friends” in the area. He added language was another huge barrier for him and other master’s degree students in automotive engineering — many of whom come from India.
“Last September, I [didn’t] have any chance to speak with local students because I [didn’t] have any local students in my classroom,” he said, adding he feels “great” to know that the University of Windsor is doing more to address mental health.
He said University of Windsor staff have dropped into a number of his classes to meet students face-to-face and promote campus events.
“When you feel like you all are one people, you definitely do something good for everybody,” said Parikh, adding the university’s Student Mental Health Strategy is great step forward in making the campus more accessible to students.
A meeting in October will take place to determine how to implement the strategy, which calls for providing more mental health information for first-year students, adding resiliency-based courses, and opening after-hours counselling spaces.
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