Charter date: June 1, 2011

Project Sponsor: Bud Walker, Associate Provost, Students
Project Leader: Chris Read


This project will review the University of Waterloo central structures, approaches and processes for addressing student mental health challenges, make recommendations, and lead the implementation of change and improvements where warranted.


In recent years an increasing number of students with mental health challenges have been entering university. As well, there is growing recognition that many students who struggle at university, or with a specific element of their studies, may be hindered by a mental health challenge. It is also recognized that, between the ages of 18 and 24 years, people experience the psychological maturation that accompanies the transformation from adolescence to adulthood.

During this time students are subject to the pressures of heightened performance expectations; the transition away from family life; new, deeper relationships; important life choices; establishment of identity; pressures on life balance, emotions and stability; and the demands of personal independence. These elements are often magnified for international students who arrive on campus with varying degrees of academic preparation and usually need to make significant adjustments to a new culture, language and support system.

A mental health challenge for the post-secondary student demographic can manifest itself in many ways. Students may simply need personal support at a traumatic time, others will need ongoing counselling or medical support, those with learning challenges may need special accommodation, others may require behavioral intervention, and some will require remedial attention to mitigate self injury.


In a variety of ways, several areas of uWaterloo support students with mental health challenges:

Teaching/learning units: The faculties, Library, Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE), Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), WatPD, the Registrar/Graduate Studies Office, and the Office of Academic Integrity deal with the manifestation of mental health challenges in the academic enterprise.

Student support units: Housing & Residences, Student Success Office (including the International Student Office, Student Life Office, and New- Student Transition Program), Feds/Graduate Student Association (GSA), Co-operative Education and Career Services (CECS), Conflict Resolution and Human Rights, Organizational and Human Development, and the University of Waterloo Police all deal with the mental health challenges in community, experiential and student development settings.

Primary wellness units: Counselling Services, Health Services, and the Office for Persons with Disabilities (OPD) provide primary care for students with mental health challenges and interact with local and provincial health, social, and medical services on the provision of mental health care. They also guide the teaching/learning units and the student support units in establishing practices to address mental health challenges.

The key to a sound mental health strategy for the University of Waterloo is to ensure the three areas (Counselling, Health Services, and OPD) are properly set up to address mental health challenges.


The project team is tasked with determining and understanding the mandates, operations, programs, processes, structure and outcomes of the primary wellness units. 

The project will identify current strengths of existing services, as well as make realistic and implementable recommendations that improve support.


The Project scope includes the mental health related mandates, operations, programs, processes, structure and outcomes of the three primary wellness units.

The Project is to: assess the impact on student success of the various mental-health-related activities of the three units; determine if there is any overlap, redundancy or misalignment of mandate or function; determine if services and programs are delivered in the most effective way; determine if activities of the three units are well integrated into an effective “circle of care” for students; assess if new services and/or locations are needed or if others should be discontinued; establish the role of the primary wellness units in educating/supporting other campus stakeholders regarding mental health; and, as specific items, determine what can be done both within and beyond the primary wellness units to:

  • Expand campus awareness of, and attention to, mental health challenges.
  • Mitigate the mental health challenges of all students.
  • Ensure a thorough understanding of the support required by many international students.
  • Address the risk and occurrence of self injury and suicide amongst students.
  • Accommodate growing numbers of students with learning challenges.
  • Determine the optimal utilization of cross-campus committees (i.e. suicide prevention, disability accommodation, etc) related to the mental health of students.


The Project may identify, but will not make recommendations related to, support for student mental health challenges that occur in the teaching/learning units and the student support units.

The Project will not examine the service delivery model in University of Waterloo - United Arab Emirates.

The project is not mandated to delve into the area of mental health challenges/support for non-Univeristy of Waterloo students.

Work outline

The Project Team will determine the best approach to achieve the desired results. It is likely that the following will need to be examined / utilized within each of the primary wellness units:

  • Stated goal(s) and/or mandates of support
  • Method(s) and/or approaches to support
  • Designed and actual processes of service delivery
  • Capacity to provide support, along with constraints
  • Any partnerships leveraged to provide support
  • Client input
  • Any general data being tracked

It is expected that staff in the units will be required to provide their time as required by the Project Team.
Examination of approaches at other post-secondary institutions may be required. Additionally, there may be benefit to soliciting input from other public/private sector expertise in the mental health field.

Project schedule

The Project Team is expected to be formed and begin in late June 2011. The Team will work toward the following timelines:

  • Complete research and fact gathering – late September 2011
  • Create and provide final report including recommendations – late October 2011

The Project Team will meet regularly with the Review Committee to collect feedback on project direction and status.

Project team structure

The Project Team will consist of:

  • Chris Read, University Housing Officer (Project Lead)
  • Dr. Mario Coniglio, Associate Dean Undergraduate Studies, Science
  • Dr. Stephen Chris, Health Services
  • Dave Mackay, Counselling Services

The Project Team may need a researcher/interviewer in the early stages of the project to complete the work in the timelines above. Any needs will be discussed and approved by the Review Team.

The Review Team will consist of:

  • Bud Walker, Associate Provost, Students
  • Rose Padacz, Director, Office for Persons with Disabilities
  • Dr. Barbara Schumacher, Medical Director, Health Services
  • Dr. Tom Ruttan, Director, Counselling Services
  • Dr. John Heinztman, Health Services
  • Dr. Debbie Roy, Health Services
  • Dr. Walter Mittelstaedt, Director, Centre for Mental Health Research
  • Luke Burke, VP Internal, FEDS
  • Krista Mathias, VP Student Advocacy of the GSA


  • There will be efficiencies and/or effectiveness gained by a more integrated service delivery model
  • The 3 identified primary wellness units are the main service delivery units of mental health support to students
  • Staff in the units will be available to provide their time as required by the Project Team
  • Satellite campuses are served by the primary wellness units (with the exception of University of Waterloo - United Arab Emirates)


  • Staff time and input may be difficult to obtain given the timing of the project