Report calls for changes

Commission seeks student input

Principal’s Commission on Mental Health Chair Dr. David Walker said he looks forward to receiving student input.
Principal’s Commission on Mental Health Chair Dr. David Walker said he looks forward to receiving student input.
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Resources for dealing with mental health on campus could be getting an overhaul in the coming years, if the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health has any say. The commission is seeking input after releasing their discussion paper on June 18.

The 57-page paper, titled “Towards a Mental Health Strategy for Queen’s,” outlines the commission’s recommendations for dealing with issues surrounding mental illness on campus.

The commission’s chair, Dr. David Walker, said he was nervous about how the paper would be received.

“A bunch of us sit for a year nearly and listen and write and then you wonder if you’re completely off the map, or did we leave things out, are we anywhere close,” he said.

Dr. Walker was chosen by Principal Daniel Woolf to head the commission, which first convened in September 2011. The five person commission met weekly with various groups and individuals until April, when they began putting their report together.

The committee was made up of faculty and administration and one student, Roy Jahchan, MPA ’11 and Law ’13. The members weren’t mental health professionals.

The paper is organized in a four-level pyramid structure. Each level included specific recommendations for the University. “It’s got 80 plus recommendations,” Walker said.

One part of the paper discusses the changing role of Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS).

“There is a long-term recommendation that the University should look to raise funds to create a new Health and Wellness Centre,” Walker said.

In addition to the relocation, the commission recommends health and counselling be integrated and a review of HCDS be done.

Walker said moving the services into the ARC, or somewhere nearby, is one possibility for the relocation.

“It should be in a place where you can wander in there, and you can wander off and get a Tim’s and chat with friends, rather than having to go sit in that sad building,” he said. Another significant recommendation is introducing a 13-week Fall term compared to the current 12-week term. The proposed new term structure would begin on a Thursday and end on a Wednesday, and would include the opportunity for a fall break.

The question of a fall reading week was brought to AMS referendum in 2007 but was rejected by students. Had the vote passed, the decision would have been non-binding.

“Queen’s is one of the only universities in Canada that has a 12-week term, so it’s really packed,” Walker said.

A fall break, he added, still wouldn’t solve the problem of overly condensed courses.

“I’m not sure people will buy that, but it’s a discussion point.”

The paper also touches on stigma.

Walker said he hopes to see Queen’s become an example for others by reducing mental health stigma on campus.

“While the rest of the world may still be harsh, we can set the example here by showing that you can combine high academic standards and a community that cares for itself and accepts that some people will have mental illness.”

Walker said the commission is most interested in hearing what students have to say about the recommendations.

Natalie Munn, ArtSci ’13, has already had a chance to look over the paper. Munn has experience in mental illness-initiatives herself as a member of the Mental Health Awareness Committee (MHAC), but she offered her opinions as a student at large.

“While the commission notably recommends changes to academic policies in hopes of alleviating student-wide stress levels and gaining an overall promotion of wellness, I was disappointed to find that the paper focused much more on general health of the student body than it did on critical mental illness,” she told the Journal via email.

Munn said she would like to see contact-based education, which includes the sharing of personal stories from those with mental illness, implemented to reduce stigma.

HCDS Director Dr. Mike Condra said he thinks the recommendations regarding HCDS are promising.

“These are services that have been on the campus now for 40 plus years,” he said. “The environment around them keeps shifting and changing.”

Feedback on the report can be submitted to cmh@queensu.ca until October.

Mental health recommendations

Towards a Mental Health Strategy for Queen’s includes over 80 recommendations. Here are seven of them.

- Enable students to drop marks that are negatively affecting their transcripts and their confidence.

- Adopt an upper-year buddy program where senior peers with shared interests can offer advice or support to younger students.

- Give first-years the opportunity to stay in their assigned room for a few days in the summer to ensure their smooth transition to campus life.

- Develop a “neighborhood advisors” program where upper year or graduate students offer support to students living in the community.

- Lobby the government for student loan flexibility so that in the event of breaks from school money isn’t lost.

- Develop systems to identify first-year students in academic difficulty and create a program to help these students improve their academic standing.

- Health, Counseling and Disability Services should review their opening hours to meet the different needs of students.

— Rosie Hales

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