Early last month, the final report of the Student Mental Health Task Force was released, as well as the University of Toronto (U of T)’s response to the final report.
The Medium has reviewed mandate one and two, including nine recommendations and the response from UTM student organizations regarding the actions that U of T intends to take and topics some believe were skimmed over in the final report.
The Task Force was created back in March to analyze the delivery and internal coordination of student mental health at all three U of T campuses. The Task Force was created following the death of a U of T student at St. George’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology on March 17.
After months of consultation with various organizations, students, faculty, and staff, the Task Force finalized their report with a particular focus on four key areas: student mental health delivery, student support coordination, partnership with external organizations, and a review of physical spaces of health organizations.
Mandate three of the Task Force’s final report focuses on reviewing the university’s partnerships with community-based organizations and hospitals. The mandate also puts forth recommendations for strengthening such partnerships.
“To meet the wide-ranging needs of students and to effectively manage the complexity of some cases of mental illness, the university relies on community organizations and hospitals to provide specialized and ongoing support to students,” said the Task Force in the final report.
The problem with community organizations, the Task Force discovered, is that “community services are often overburdened and that community partners often perceive that the university is better resourced or positioned to manage student mental health care.”
Because of this misconception of campus health services being “better resourced or positioned,” community organizations would refer students back to the university when, “in many situations, community supports might be more appropriate for the student’s needs.”
In light of this, the Task Force made three recommendations that focus on continuing to build new partnerships and strengthening the external services they are already aligned with.
Recommendation ten of the final report asks U of T to “continue to invest in and strengthen diverse community partnerships.”
In particular, the Task Force strongly recommended U of T to strengthen its partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“Proximity to our downtown campus coupled with CAMH’s leadership in mental health—excellence in research education, group and individual care, and health promotion—make CAMH the ideal partner for U of T,” said the Task Force in the report.
A stronger partnership with CAMH was agreed upon by U of T administration as was reported in the administrative response to the final report released on January 15. Whether it will remain effective for its “proximity” to campuses further away from the downtown campus, like UTM, remains uncertain.
Under recommendation eleven, the Task Force advised U of T to “increase programs that bring community resources to the university’s campuses to provide services for students and to provide education for students, staff, and faculty.”
“Students would like to see the university collaborate with community partners such as CAMH, local hospitals, and Morneau Shepell, (the company that runs My SSP),” stated the report. “This requires prioritizing space for these activities and creating spaces that are conductive to wellness.”
Taking into consideration the distance from community services that some campuses may experience, like UTM and the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), the Task Force sees “on-campus services” to be “particularly evident.”
“Bringing programs to campus alleviates additional stressors for students like commuting time and costs associated with accessing community-based supports,” continued the report. “Students are also more confident and comfortable with practitioners who are connected with the university and are likely to have a better understanding of the university context.”
In accordance with this recommendation, the Task Force added that the university should provide mental health training to “staff members, faculty members, teaching assistants, and mental health counsellors on U of T policies that might relate to student mental health including academic policies, code of conduct, [and] sexual violence.”
In the administrative response to the final report, U of T responded to recommendation eleven with a newly established partnership with CAMH and the creation of a Mental Health Services Redesign Team.
The administrative response also stated that the partnership with CAMH will consist of “providing enhanced clinical education programs in student mental health for U of T trainees in the health professions, as well as ongoing professional development opportunities for staff and students.”
Recommendation twelve, which asks U of T to “improve relationships, case management, access, and navigation support for students being connected with community resources,” concludes the recommendations under mandate three.
This recommendation comes from students, who are concerned with the transition between campus services and community organizations.
“Students experience barriers and issues with accessing off-campus resources; long wait times for referrals or appointments,” said the Task Force in the final report. “[As well as] challenges with location and transportation to off-campus resources, hours of care, and matching care with need; a lack of follow up to make or attend appointment; and financial constraints for private services.”
According to the report, transitioning to and from community organizations causes students to feel as if they’re “being shuffled around and experiencing stress and anxiety from having to repeat their story to multiple people.”
To alleviate these issues, the Task Force recommends the university invest resources to hire community liaisons who will “maintain a list of partnerships, make referrals that align with student needs (financial, schedule, location, and language), and support student follow-up and referral.”
The administrative response to the final report accepts this recommendation as well and will put it into effect within its partnership with CAMH. The U of T administrative response stated that the CAMH partnership will also consist of “creating integrated care pathways between campus-based services and CAMH—and other hospitals and agencies in the Toronto region—including crisis management services.”
Yet, the Task Force recognizes that “while relationships with local hospitals have improved in recent years, there are still gaps.”
“Scarce resources at local organizations and hospitals are a pressure point in terms of referring students,” continued the Task Force. “Community agencies are also stretched and often have long waitlists and issues meeting demand that are even more acute than the issues facing the university.”
Concluding the last recommendation under mandate three, the Task Force asked U of T to consider advocating, alongside community organizations, to the government for financial support to provide additional student mental health care.