Commission to survey mental health

Principal Daniel Woolf announced the launch of a new commission this week to assess the state of mental health at Queen’s.

“The commission is intended to do a very high-level scan of the issues of mental health on campus, certain pressures students are feeling, how our services are responding,” Woolf said.

The commission has already met twice, mainly to discuss logistical elements of how it will work. Its creation stemmed from “a rather difficult year” on campus last year Queen’s had last year. Seven students died last year.

“The issue of student mental health was particularly front of mind already and it had occurred to me, fairly late in the year, that we really didn’t understand [it] fully.”

Woolf said the commission won’t run on an operational level, as there are other administrative groups, like the Mental Health Working Group that concentrate on the day-to-day functions of mental health resources at Queen’s.

The working group was created in 2007. The group organizes programs and services like Mental Health First Aid sessions and mental health training in residences.

“This is more a high-level view,” Woolf said of the new commission. The aim of the commission is to provide a forum to talk about issues of mental health, Woolf said, adding that the information collected will be useful to other post-secondary campuses as well.

Woolf chose five members to sit on the commission, selecting faculty members, administrators and one professional student.

The commission will present a report to Woolf in April. After the presentation it will disband. Chair of the Commission, Dr. David Walker said the commission’s only expense will be the room where the meetings take place.

“At the moment, we haven’t identified any costs that are direct other than the in-built costs of the people involved,” said Walker, a professor in emergency medicine, family medicine and policy studies.

“I don’t see this as being a costly exercise but when we make our recommendations … there will obviously have to be a cost for those things.”

The commission hasn’t been designed to provide support to individual students, Walker said.

“During this process we’re going to ensure that people who need help that bump into us have avenues open to them,” he said.

Walker said his hope is for the commission is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health on campus.

“The hypothesis is the better informed we are, the less stigma … is attached,” he said.

Student involvement will be important, Walker said, adding that the commission will encourage students to come into their weekly Wednesday meetings. The commission hasn’t yet decided how many of these meetings will be open to the public.

“I want to hear from people first,” he said. “We’ll have a very active website. We’re communicating by a variety of means.”

The website will launch in the next few weeks. Walker said recommendations for initiatives won’t occur right away.

“I would stress that in the early weeks we will be in listening and learning mode,” he said.

Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney sits on the commission. She said it will reach out to the AMS, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) and Health, Counseling and Disability Services to ensure broad consultation.

“We [also] want to speak to people like residence dons and academic advisors,” she said.

The commission will have the capacity to recommend the need for more mental health resources on campus as they see fit. “We’ve been asked to make recommendations — we are well aware some of the recommendations will be how to find funding,” Tierney said.

— With files from Terra-Ann Arnone and Jessica Fishbein

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