University of Guelph strengthening approach to mental health after on-campus suicides
After all the parties and orientation activities of week one, it’s time for post-secondary students to buckle down and get to work.
As much fun as university and college can be, it also bring with heavy course loads, time management challenges and performance pressures that can weigh students down and affect their mental health.
The University of Guelph said it has been working to make mental health a bigger part of the school’s culture, especially for students living in residence, after a series of heartbreaks during the last academic year.
“Over the summer when we met with students in particular, they talked about using social media differently, using different ways to explain where our resources are,” said Brenda Whiteside, the school’s vice president of student affairs.
After four on-campus suicides in the span of two months during the 2016-2017 school year, there were calls for the school to do something. There was even a digital petition, started by students, urging the administration to do more.
The school found itself stretched thin and its counsellors couldn’t help address all the students needing some form of help. Officials said two more counsellors have been hired for this year and it brought back a program that sees student leaders and staff check on students in their dorms during the high-anxiety midterm season.
“There’s this real sense that somehow failing a midterm or not doing well is the end of the world,” said Whiteside.
“(We’re) just trying to reassure them that that’s normal and there’s lot of supports.”
The school is also testing out workbooks for students in residence that will provide them tips for dealing with the stresses and strains of the school year and a phone app meant to promote positive thinking and build resilience to the tough times.
University of Guelph officials said students are also part of the solution. They encourage students to help each other, look out for their friends and spot problems.
“There’s bystander training,” said Whiteside.
“Looking for someone that’s got some signals … going out and talking to them and saying, ‘Hey, if you need help, can I help you? Can I get you to counselling?'”
School administration said it is also doing more to encourage students that it’s OK to seek out help. They’re also trying to make students more aware of the mental health supports available to them, both on-campus and outside of it, through a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
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