President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health Terms of Reference

Given that:

The World Health Organization (WHO, 1946) definition: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, and

The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education has guidelines for student health and counselling services that promotes a healthy learning environment within the academic institution, and

The University of Waterloo has an enrolment of 36,000 students, and a diverse student population, and

Many students at the University of Waterloo experience stress that, at least in part, is associated with a competitive academic environment, high expectations that can be difficult to meet, and demanding features of cooperative education, and

The University of Waterloo Mental Health Review in 2012 made recommendations to establish a long-term strategy for student mental health, then…

The President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health is tasked with ensuring the collection of a broad set of information on student mental health considering both the UW student body and the larger societal context. It will review the data and information collected and advise on the status of the progress of mental health initiatives across the university. It will examine root causes of student stress, anxiety and depression, and how to mitigate them proactively instead of reactively.    

The committee will:

  • Ensure comprehensive information and data collection
  • Utilize National College Health Assessment (NCHA) and other related analysis and research
  • Make observations/recommendations to the President in the areas of:
    • General state of student mental health and UW’s current response to student need
    • Support, education, and policy that have been found to be effective
    • Barriers or gaps in support, education/policy related to student mental health
    • Resource assessment relative to the identified priorities
    • Effectiveness of service integration across the University
    • Opportunities that may exist to strengthen University/community/industry partnerships
    • Opportunities to use evidence-based research and campus expertise
    • Identify innovative and effective practices that could be considered at UW

Structure and process

The President’s Advisory Committee (PAC-SMH) will be positioned as a central information collection, analysis, and recommendation body. The PAC-SMH will provide mandate questions (see Appendix A) for several topical expert panels and will support these groups to provide information needed to compile a final report. The panel groups and the PAC-SMH will gather information using methods such as research of current literature, interviews with key informants, focus groups and surveys.

The range of topics to be covered and membership of the panels will be determined in the early stages of the PAC-SMH’s mandate.  

Proposed structure – PAC-SMH

Committee structure

  • Chaired by Director, Campus Wellness
  • 8-10 members (students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, researchers, etc) – to be selected by the President
  • Informed by five panels:
    • Mental Health Experts
    • Student Services
    • Community Partners
    • Academics
    • Student Experience


President’s Advisory Committee

The 8-10 member committee will be appointed by the president based on expertise, stakeholder representation and expressions of interest.  Student representation, consultation and participation is critical, and will be prioritized in the work of the committee. The Director, Campus Wellness, will chair the committee, which may include representation from the following stakeholders:

  • Students (undergraduate and graduate)
  • Faculty
  • Staff
  • Alumni
  • Researchers in relevant fields
  • Expertise in related clinical fields
  • Ex-officio support roles to be determined (i.e., research, communications, etc.)
  • Additional individuals/groups may be called upon from time to time to join the group for a specific number of meeting 

Supporting Panel Groups

The membership parameters for the proposed panel groups will be finalized by the PAC-SMH early in its mandate. Membership will be invited through an on-line application process using the PAC-SMH website.


The Committee will meet initially in Spring 2017 and determine an appropriate meeting schedule to ensure completion of deliverable by the end of Fall 2017. 

The Committee will then recommend the optimal advisory committee format to ensure an effective, campus-wide and integrated strategy is being supported at the University of Waterloo.

Expected outcomes

The committee will establish a variety of in-person and online mechanisms to engage with the campus community and to solicit input.

The committee will issue an interim update and is expected to present a full report in the fall of 2017.

Appendix A – Sample mandate questions for topical panels

Mental Health Experts Panel

  • Are the clinical approaches we are using the most appropriate?
  • How far can/should an organization like the University go in providing treatment for mental illness?
  • What screening mechanisms should we be using?

Student Services Panel

  • How well are student services working together to provide a comprehensive mental health response?  (Housing, Campus Wellness, SSO, AccessAbility, Athletics)
  • What additional supports are needed to ensure adequate level of mental health awareness across student services?
  • What additional training can be beneficial?

Student Experience Panel

  • What do students wish to say about:
    • The culture of the University?
    • Their expectations and reasons for expectations of services?
    • What it takes to stay motivated?
  • What ideas do students have about communication and adaption of services to meet their needs?

Community Partners Panel

  • How do we currently characterize the relationship of the University Mental Health Services with community agencies?
  • What services and supports can the University reasonably expect from community agencies and vice versa?
  • How can the University assist the community in advocating for appropriate level of resources for speciality services (i.e. first episode psychosis, eating disorders, substance abuse)?

 Academic Panel

  • How do we understand the relationship between academic stress and mental health?
  • What is a reasonable level of demand in terms of academic load, scheduling, and other planning required by students (i.e., co-op)?
  • Are there exemplars of programs, instructors that represent a good balance between academic rigour and mental wellness?  Can we learn from these?