Universities are places of growth and development that students, faculty and staff all take part in. At the same time, we see the stress of learning, teaching and working can make some feel a sense of isolation and depression leading to mental health and wellness challenges. These challenges have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic creating a sense of isolation and compounding stress on us all. No one should feel alone or like the weight of the world is bombarding them with pressure and stress to the breaking point.
Our goals as an institution of higher learning would not be possible without a healthy and thriving community of students, faculty and staff.
We must end the stigma of mental health on our campuses and in society. We must come together as a community to support one another through our difficult times and also be willing to reach out. Saying these words is easy, following through and doing it is quite another challenge, but one the University of Waterloo takes extremely seriously.
Building mental health supports
Raising awareness and reaching out to our community, particularly our students, is essential, but it is as important to build a structure of supports, policies and procedures to mitigate mental health stresses where possible and aid in those going through acute and long-term stress. The implementation of these supports was front and centre in the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health Report released in 2018 that listed 36 key recommendations for addressing student mental health gaps at Waterloo.
From increasing the number of counsellors to the review of academic programs through a mental health lens, the creation of key working groups and investing in mental health support training and research for staff and faculty, Waterloo has taken a holistic approach to building the supports for student mental health and the mental health of our broader community.
University and higher education naturally come with pressures and stresses that help us grow as individuals, but when that pressure gets too much we must be there to have the systems and supports in place to help everyone.
Fostering a community and supports on and off-campus
As an institution that is home to the largest co-operative and experiential education program in the world, our students are on and off campus regularly engaging in unique work experiences that take them away from a singular familiar setting. This is a powerful form of skill and personal development, but it can also create a disconnection for students.
This has made building a community on and off campus an essential task, long before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many of us to work, study and teach remotely. Fostering that community is no easy task and to make it possible we must look to taking every opportunity we have to establish relationships between students and by leveraging our digital tools to keep those connections strong.
Student clubs, group projects, athletics, study groups and peer mentorship all play a role in fostering community at an institution. The Student Success Office, Campus Wellness and our partners at the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association and the Graduate Student Association are an essential part of these efforts of community building and create an environment that strengthens our collective well-being.
There is no single solution to the complex challenge of mental health and wellness. It takes a holistic approach that aims at short-term gains that translate into long-term, systemic change. Adding counsellors and updating systems to address students in crisis are a key part of our efforts to reach out and support our students on campus, at home or out on co-op. But, building a community that breaks down barriers and looks after one another is vital for the future health and well-being of us all.
Whether it may be students, faculty or staff going through a challenging time or going through a significant time of crisis, Waterloo takes mental health and wellness seriously. This is something that the Committee on Student Mental Health, Campus Wellness, Counselling Services, Health Services and our entire community strives to do every day and we will not stop.