The Presidential and Provostial Student Mental Health Task Force revealed the results of the response from the U of T community about mental health last Wednesday in their official draft summary of themes.
The Student Mental Health Task Force was created last year as a response to the concerns raised by students on the state of mental health services at U of T.
Following the response, on March 28, U of T President Meric Gertler announced a four-part endeavor to improve student mental health services.
Part one of the four-part plan included convening a Presidential and Provostial Student Mental Health Task Force.
In July, the Student Mental Health Task Force started their Outreach & Engagement Plan which involved in-person focus groups, online feedback forms, and student-led Innovation Hub feedback sessions at all three campuses.
The final phase of their Outreach & Engagement Plan involves sharing a summary of the broad themes discussed at the consultations. The themes will be a key point of discussion for the Student Mental Health Task Force’s official report to the President and Provost in December.
The draft summary of themes report begins with a probing question: “This is what we heard: did we miss anything?”
The broad themes that the report covers includes communication; education, training and awareness; services; space; partnership; culture at U of T; and institutional systems and policies.
On the theme of communication, the Task Force states that “students, staff, and faculty struggle to navigate the array of services and resources available, not understanding how to access them and/or refer appropriately.”
Communication also covers the “misunderstandings in the community about the University Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP), leading to confusion around how the policy is applied and fear about its potential impacts,” and the “lack of clarity around the roles and responsibilities of the University when it comes to supporting mental health on campus.”
Education, training and awareness focuses on the necessity of “training for identifying mental health issues and referring to appropriate services across all members of the community.”
Services states that “concerns about waitlists for initial assessment appointment and follow-up appointment are an issue and may deter some students from help-seeking behaviours,” and that accessibility services and health services struggle to meet demand on all three campuses.”
The Services theme also highlights the “need for increased diversity in counsellors, broader mental health knowledge, as well as comprehensive education and training for the whole staff to increase their competencies on providing services to students from Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and racialized communities with intersecting identities.”
Space notes that “the physical locations of the health and wellness clinics on campus were often hard to find, dark, poorly lighted and lacked comfortable furniture or greenery. This enhanced the perception that mental health is not a priority at U of T.”
Culture at U of T covers U of T’s culture of excellence and how “competition to ‘get in’ is expected, but competition to ‘stay in’ is problematic.” The Task Force proposes U of T should “continue to expand the notion of excellence to include wellness and become a ‘community of care.’”
Culture at U of T’s sub-sections include isolation and loneliness and added mental health stressors—like the financial insecurity brought upon students by the recent changes to OSAP.
Lastly, the theme of institutional systems and policies covers the “systemic issues of bureaucratic processes causing barriers, in part because access and processes are not streamlined,” which includes how the “communication systems for appointments and websites are unclear.”
Institutional systems and policies also stress the concern for how the “complex cases in which students need immediate care and connection with services can be complicated by U of T’s organizational structure and silos.”
Partnerships states that “community services are often overburdened and perceive that the University is better resourced, so they tend to refer students back to U of T mental health services for care, when community supports may be more appropriately matched to the students’ needs.”
The Student Mental Health Task Force asks the U of T community for feedback on whether their themes cover the majority of concerns surrounding student mental health services on campuses.
An online feedback form will be open from November 7 to November 25. Additionally, a pop-up event will take place on each campus to receive in-person feedback from November 11 to November 25.
The in-person pop-up event will be co-organized by the U of T Innovation Hub to run the student-led feedback sessions.
The pop-up event invites community members to respond publicly to the drafted themes through a post-it note activity or privately through a feedback fill-out card.
At the UTM campus, the pop-up event will occur on November 14 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) Atrium.