Completing the wellness circle

Brochures and pamphlets at mental health walked promoted wellness. (Heather Davidson)
Brochures and pamphlets at mental health walked promoted wellness. (Heather Davidson)

Counselling Services and Health Services should have a new front to present to the student body in the next year.

As part of implementing recommendations made through an external review of student wellness at Wilfrid Laurier University, including mental wellness, plans are now underway to move the offices into one shared space.

“We put a hallway down the middle separating them, which was, in hindsight, a mistake, because it really separated them in terms of their operations,” said David McMurray, vice president of student affairs at Laurier.

“I call it the scary hallway,” he added, suggesting that the divided approach may not be welcoming or comfortable for students.

A unified approach, he acknowledged, would also reduce the amount of times student have to “tell their story,” something that may be intimidating or frustrating for people trying to access services.

The Wellness Centre model already exists at Laurier Brantford. Students have apparently responded well to the services.

Discussions are currently taking place on how to make changes to the existing space where the services operate.

Renovations, at an estimated cost of $220,000, should be completed by this time next year after funding has been secured.

But Counselling and Health Services are only a small fraction of the services that address mental wellness on campus.

A summit that took place this fall brought out numerous campus clubs to discuss mental health and stigmas surrounding it.

In addition, there are many formalized service providers for student mental wellness, such as Peer Help Line and the Mental Health Education Group, among others.

But with the wide array of services available to address mental health needs, the question arises, is it clear for students where and how to access the type of help they need?

“I think there’s confusion,” said McMurray, though he doesn’t believe the amount of service providers is the problem.

According to mental health/student support team leader Adrienne Luft, different campus services are trying to work together more to have a more effective impact.

“It’s not just having the services, it’s how we communicate about the services, too,” she said.
Given the wide range of resources available, comprehensiveness was not considered an issue in the Student Wellness at Laurier University review.

“I do believe we need the complexity of services. I know sometimes that can be confusing, but when I’m sitting with a student, students have different needs,” Luft continued, acknowledging that the campus is undergoing a time of change in regard to mental health and wellness.

“We’re working at this time to really streamline that, so it’s easier for students to sort of navigate the supports when they are experiencing distress.”

According to Laura Curk, vice president: programming and service for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, providers are improving their ability to work together.

“They’re creating sort of a wellness circle where they’re sort of working together a bit more than we’ve seen in the past,” she said.     “Rather than being sort of siloed entities, you’re starting to see more, not overlap, but … ‘how can we work together to better support students?’”

Ashley Coleman, president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), believes that each service offers something unique and that the different providers work together well.

“Of course there might be confusion, but I think that that would stem from a student not having a full picture of what is offered here. But I think we’re getting better at providing that information,” she said.

The GSA recently introduced the Wellness Hub, a Facebook page that communicates mental health information and initiatives to students.

Along with the suggestion to create a Wellness Centre, reviewers, who visited the Waterloo campus in May, presented 16 other recommendations about student wellness.

Task forces have been set up to address each area, with changes intended to be implemented by September 2014.

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