The more people talk about mental health and wellness, the more important it is that we listen. Especially when it comes to students.
We’ve all heard the statistics. We know that 'one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness at one point in their life’ but that ‘five in five people have mental health.’ We’ve started the important conversations needed to de-stigmatize mental illness and have participated in conferences such as The Jack Project where we talked, listened, and learned about the challenges people face everyday.
As more conversations about mental health proliferate campuses, it becomes even more important that support services provide students with the resources they need to succeed at a post-secondary level. In fact, I think because of these conversations, the expectation and need for institutions to have the infrastructure to facilitate more specialized support services is growing for students and their families alike.
The problem? Students are living in a social environment where they are encouraged to talk about their mental health, but lack the institutional support to assist them following their disclosures. Institutions don’t have the infrastructure, capacity, or funding to allow for specialized support services. So what can we do? I think institutions need to assess the services they already provide for their students and then become creative to find ways to enhance them. How can institutions ensure that their support services truly provide help to the students who are in need? I think the solution is simple; data collection.
In my mind, there are four important steps to data collection. These steps include collecting, analyzing, reporting, and providing recommendations on all data collected. The first part is as simple as releasing a survey or hosting a feedback system where students can answer various questions about the service they received. The hard part about this? Student buy-in. Institutions should work with students and student unions across campus to help advertise the importance of collecting this data.
The next three steps of data collection go hand-in-hand.
Analyzing, responding, and creating recommendations from student feedback are three very important parts of the data collection process. In order to encourage students to fill out surveys or feedback systems they need to know that their voice is being heard. Bi-annual analysis and reporting to students should be paired with data collection in order to, again, open the conversation to students. For example, if data shows that there is a severe lack of support for students transitioning their gender presentation while at a post-secondary level, then perhaps the university should be providing additional training to counsellors or physicians at wellness services in order to support those students.
Data collection provides a unique solution to the limited capacity and funding at university wellness services. By gaining a better understanding of the challenges students face through data collection, institutions can target funds, space, and human services to better respond to students needs. Perhaps money shouldn't just go towards hiring new people to fill positions. Perhaps money can be targeted to provide specialized training for counsellors and physicians. This way, institutions can say that although they may not offer specialized services for all student needs, they do have sufficient knowledge and training to support and listen to students with a wide variety of needs.
With that being said, data collection is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach for institutions. Different institutions face a variety of challenges. It’s up to each institution to talk to their students, staff, and faculty to understand what more needs to be done to support students. It’s about opening up and continuing the ongoing conversation on support services.
Without collecting data, institutions can’t know whether their services are meeting the needs of their students. We need to listen to students’ opinions and ideas and then respond in creative and focused ways to the data they provide in order to improve services.
OUSA Steering Committee Member
Vice-President University Affairs, Queen’s AMS