Queen’s and St. Lawrence College announced last week that they’ll be receiving $1 million in funding from the Ontario government to develop a new set of mental health accommodation standards.
The standards will ultimately be implemented in universities across the province.
The funding will be provided over the next three years by the provincial Mental Health Innovation Fund, which is offered by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities for new post-secondary initiatives.
Simultaneously, Queen’s will be providing $426,000 to fund the creation of a new peer mentoring service, which will be geared towards helping students suffering from mental health disabilities.
“It will be a large group project involving people across the province,” said Mike Condra, the Director of Health, Counselling, and Disabilities Services.
Condra will be leading the project along with Wanda Williams, the Director of Student Sevices at St. Lawrence College.
The standards will be developed by research teams at Queen’s and St. Lawrence. They will collaborate with focus groups consisting of students, mental health service providers, and senior administrators in universities and colleges across Ontario.
The project aims to establish standards for how faculty members are educated about mental health and how information and support is provided to students with mental health disabilities.
It will also address the documentation required for students to receive accommodations.
The recommendations will be brought back to the focus groups at the end of the process so they can be implemented throughout the province.
Condra said many challenges remain for students requiring mental health accommodations.
“Mental health problems can be episodic,” he said. “A student can function quite well for weeks at a time and then hit a period of depression or anxiety.”
To address this, accommodation systems need to be more flexible, he said, so students can access accommodation in the short term.
Flexibility in accommodation is also important because students can be unaware of mental health problem until it becomes overwhelming.
“University is an intensely focused place,” he said. “Sometimes in the middle of all that intensity it’s hard to know that it has become a serious mental health difficulty.” Like the accommodation standards project, the new peer mentoring program will develop standards that will be made available to universities and colleges province-wide. Peer mentors will be familiarized with mental health disabilities, and their training will focus on mentoring strategies that help students deal with mental health problems.
“Now we have the funding to not only build on what we already have, but to create a state-of-the-art mental health peer mentoring program,” Condra said.
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