Triage Model

What is a triage model?

A mental health triage model is a process conducted at the point of entry to health services which aims to assess and categorize the urgency of mental health related problems. The essential function is to determine the nature and severity of the mental health problem, determine which service response would best meet the need of the patient, and how urgently the response is required.

Who uses this model?

Generally, triage models are used in a health-care setting. On campus, this is usually housed in health services or wellness service locations.

What models exist on Ontario campuses?

Queen’s University utilizes a triage-based model of care with a mental health nurse as the keystone[1]. Queens’ mental health triage model allows quicker response to mental health concerns and remedies the concern regarding students who are turned away when open-appointment times are filled. Short triage appointments assess the student’s presenting concerns and apply a problem solving model, including a same day appointment, a longer appointment booked within the next week, or facilitated referrals for specific issues to bridge the gap between the triage and next appointment.

McMaster University utilizes a triage model called a “Consultation model” which is run through the Student Wellness Centre and is the entrance point for students into the counselling area. They see students on a drop in basis every day for short appointments that assess their needs and then will refer them to a counsellor, an outside resource, a physician or some other service on campus or off, depending on their needs.  It is an opportunity to ensure that everyone who comes for an appointment for personal counselling is seen within 24 hours and assessed for urgency and need.

UBC Vancouver’s Triage System, implemented in 2010, provides access to initial assessment within 24 hours and rapid matching to services and resources. (In cases of more immediate crises, universities can convene response teams within the hour.)

Benefits and challenges


  • Allows for rapid clinical intervention at a time when it is likely that colleges and universities will be asked to respond effectively to more students presenting with severe depression, self-harm and sexual assault among other concerns.
  • Has the potential to impact important variables such as number of medical leaves, psychiatric hospitalizations and more broadly student retention.
  • Will allow key constituents to experience the university as a place that is more caring and responsive.
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