Posted March 11, 2022
By Kirsty Clarke
Student Life Health & Wellness has been working to enhance access to mental health services, and is committed to hearing from students as part of this process. To that end, they partnered with the Innovation Hub (iHub) a student-led initiative that collaborates with partners at U of T to research strategies for improving the campus experience.
In Phase 1 of this work, in the summer of 2021, iHub conducted sessions with more than 40 students on St. George Campus. Students gave feedback on, and designed, what they want their campus mental health supports to look like. iHub outlined themes and needs from these sessions for Health & Wellness to consider and address in their efforts to improve the experience of mental health support on campus.
Over the fall semester, H&W has implemented several changes or new approaches in response to this input.
“We’ve been happy to have direct feedback from students on these issues,” says Janine Robb, Executive Director of Health & Wellness. “‘Improving our outreach and service is an ongoing process, and we’ve been able to implement several changes in response to student concerns, even in the face of providing services during an exceptionally stressful time since March 2020.”
Addressing top-of-mind concerns
As part of the enhancement of access to mental health services, students can now request same-day counselling appointments to address top-of-mind concerns.
Students reported in feedback sessions that they were taking appointments seriously, and preparing ahead of time with lists of what they wanted to cover. Some worried, however, that one appointment may not be enough to address everything they wanted to, or that their own concerns and priorities may not be the focus of the session.
In response to the feedback about time not being spent on student concerns and priorities, Health & Wellness developed a student-led approach to determine what is covered in these appointments. When students book their session, they’re asked to complete a form before the meeting to provide background information, and to indicate their primary concern and what their desired outcome might be. A clinician reviews each form before the appointment, and then confirms the goal of that session at the beginning. The clinician can assist each student in identifying a primary concern and help to manage expectations if a student has a list of multiple concerns/issues to address.
There are a multitude of mental health services available to students on and off campus, through Health & Wellness and outside it. Some student responses in the iHub-led sessions suggested that the website and other resources be updated and streamlined, for a clear, upfront understanding of what range of mental health services they can access and how each will be delivered. Work to address this request is currently underway.
Updates to the web-based information include the new, tri-campus mental health resource hub providing detailed information about mental health supports and services including tools, strategies and programs to assist students exactly where they are in their search for support. There is also clearer and more streamlined information available about accessing mental health supports virtually, and at UTSG Health & Wellness.
In related feedback, students asked for navigation support with the larger mental health ‘ecosystem’ of services, on and off campus. Health and Wellness has addressed this concern with different supports. A student can book a same-day appointment specifically as a navigation support session, or in the context of a broader counselling session. The Peer support service can also provide navigation support within their sessions. A student can book a same-day appointment specifically as a navigation support session, or in the context of a broader counselling session.
Students asked that physical space be carefully considered too, so that students arranging for appointments would find a welcoming and private space to wait. Within the context of the pandemic that need has changed a bit, and the focus has shifted to the need for private spaces for virtual appointments. Health & Wellness has found space and created a booking process and how-to guide for mental health clinicians to book a private, dedicated space for students they are meeting virtually with, should the student require one. If a student can’t meet privately in their own space, for example, Health & Wellness will help to identify private, physical space for their virtual appointment, so they will not be overheard or interrupted.
Student feedback on their experiences
Students also wanted opportunities to provide meaningful feedback after their appointments. With this in mind, Health & Wellness, in continued partnership with iHub, designed and launched Phase 2 of their work together: a survey that all students attending same-day counseling appointments were sent by email within 24 hours of their session. Clinicians provided a prompt at the end of appointments that this survey was coming and that student feedback was important.
Health & Wellness is now using this feedback to continue to make changes and improvements to service delivery, supported by iHub’s analysis and reporting. These efforts are an important piece of integrating student engagement and co-creation in their work moving forward.
To find out more about services and programs, visit Health & Wellness.