A new mental health strategy at Conestoga College is aiming to create a more positive environment on campus that is supportive of students’ mental health and overall wellbeing.
“The student mental health strategy is a chance to take a step back and hear from students and faculty about what they are seeing, hearing and feeling,” said student wellness project manager Heather Callum, adding that the college is in need of a more welcoming environment for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues.
The new strategy is in its beginning stages. Consultations are underway with faculty, staff and students about which programs are working and which should be expanded. Once that’s complete, a committee will be created that will make recommendations based on what they have heard in order to begin the planning process for new strategies that will create a better overall environment.
As more students reach out, the demand at each campus grows greater.
“It is well-recognized on all campuses that student mental health is a very important topic,” Callum said. “The frequency of students reaching out for help has gone up, not only at Conestoga but at campuses across Canada. As well, the needs that students are bringing forward are more complex.”
Peer navigator Kayleigh Hilborn, located in Room 1A107 at Conestoga’s Doon campus, said her role “is to provide one-on-one support to students on campus and to facilitate groups.
“There will be a group a day beginning March 4 and students can just come in or, if they are looking for a one-on-one meeting, they can email me to set up an appointment,” Hilborn said.
Callum hopes the changes will eventually be provincewide.
“There will be more opportunity, with the province providing funding to all of the colleges and universities in Ontario, for student mental health. We have a great opportunity to really engage students and amplify their voice.” she said.
Callum acknowledged there has been a stigma surrounding mental health for quite some time, but students are becoming increasingly comfortable with coming forward and asking for help.
“Some students are very willing to come forward and get help. The stigma, in my opinion, about reaching out has decreased, which is great. But there will always be people who are not as comfortable and are unsure what questions to ask. Part of what we will be exploring in the strategy is how we can make it more accessible and what makes it harder for them to reach out.”