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Student Mental Health at U of T

Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health

The Task Force report issued 21 recommendations for improving support and services for students.  The impact of the Covid 19 pandemic that followed amplified the importance of these recommendations. Since then, the University has actioned more than 90 percent of the report’s recommendations. In 2022, the University established a tri-campus Student Mental Health Team to support mental health initiatives that focus on providing the best services possible for all students across U of T.

Senior Executive Director of Student Mental Health Strategy, Policy and Planning

In August 2022, Chris Bartha joined the University of Toronto as Senior Executive Director of Student Mental Health Strategy, Policy and Planning, which is part of the Office of the Vice Provost, Students (OVPS). “It is an honour to join U of T at a time when the mental health of young people and our students is such an important discussion across the country,” says Bartha.

The Senior Executive Director has established a tri-campus Mental Health team that collaborates with existing programs, services, and community providers such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Scarborough Health Network (SHN).

Current Student Mental Health Landscape

In 2015, through the Okanagan Charter, post-secondary institutions across Canada collaborated to launch an important joint discussion regarding the need to build wholistic, health-promoting learning environments, with student mental health as an important pillar.

The principles of the Charter–and their importanceare highlighted by the growing evidence of need among young people who are heading toward and engaged in post-secondary education. The 2022 CAMH Ontario Student Drug Use Study, which includes mental health indicators, revealed that over one third (39%) of high school students felt that the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health (very much or extremely). With nearly 70% of high school students now attending post-secondary education, it is essential that these organizations ensure that supports are in place to address mental health needs. The University of Toronto has responded by continuing to build a continuum of resources across campuses that support early intervention to acute mental health crises.    

The Stepped Care Model

Aa an early part of the process of responding to recommendations, U of T adopted the Stepped Care Model of service. This model offers students many different kinds of resources to meet their mental health care needs. They can try One at a Time appointments (which can be booked for the same day they ask) or choose longer-term engagement with an array of services. UTM, St. George campus, and UTSC all offer a range of options for easy access to personalized care options.

Student Mental Health Team Priorities and Accomplishments

It’s within this context of building wholistic, health-promoting supports that the new tri-campus Student Mental Health Team is working to further leverage the individual strengths of each campus health centre and other partners to build a collaborative network of resources and services that are more accessible and beneficial to students and the university community.   

In its first year, six collaborative priorities were launched by the Team and will continue in 2023/24.  These include:

  1. Embed a Student Advisory Committee in the newly established Tri-Campus Student Mental Health Governance Model.
  2. Establish a consistent approach to clinical service design, while retaining the capacity to customize campus services to meet local student needs.
  3. Partner with CAMH, SHN, and Trillium Health Partners (THP) to build acute-care supports for students.
  4. Develop a standard, reliable, university data set including access and wait-time data to support and sustain the improvements to service accessibility. 
  5. Launch collaborative evaluation projects to measure results.
  6. Collaborate to establish simplified communications and navigation tools for students, staff, and faculty who are looking for resources.

Within this list there are already a number of accomplishments to highlight:

Student Mental Health Advisory Committee: In 2023, a Student Mental Health Advisory Committee will launch. Twenty-five student members, representing the diversity of students across the University, will meet for the first time in November to discuss current initiatives and challenges. Their advice will inform ongoing and future projects. Student participation and co-design remain important pillars of the tri-campus work in student mental health.

Clinical pathway between CAMH and U of T: In September 2022, the first clinical pathway between CAMH and U of T was launched. Called the University of Toronto Navigation Service, the service is supported by two Navigators at CAMH dedicated to supporting U of T students who present in their Emergency Department. To date, more than 190 students have been referred to the navigation service.  A formal evaluation of the service is currently underway. Key learnings from this project will inform the second initiative now in the planning stage with Scarborough Health Network and UTSC Health and Wellness.

Students’ Perception of Mental Health Care Survey: To explore the student experience, also in 2022/23, the three health Centres and the Tri-Campus Student Mental Team collaborated to evaluate Students’ Perception of Mental Health Care at U of T health centres. The results indicated a positive level of satisfaction with mental health services.  This and other feedback from students will inform ongoing opportunities to improve care. This includes better communicating the availability of mental health services and the diversity of the counselling teams providing them—outlined in this article [link]– will be shared with students this month. Another survey on student perception of care is planned for 2024/25.

Student Mental Health Website: Finally, in 2022 , the Student Mental Health Website was launched to enable easier access to mental health resources across all the campuses. It is now undergoing improvements to improve usability. The website links the user to important information including the tri–Campus Health Centres’ services, Telus Health Student Support ,and NAVI online chat.  A key improvement in 2022/23 was eliminating wait times for health centre counselling services – staff and faculty are encouraged to refer students to these resources and services when needed. Telus Health Student Support telephone counselling remains a 24/7 resource for both students and faculty who may need advice on how to respond to student crises outside of university business hours.

Mental health is a dynamic space in healthcare service delivery.  Even since the publication of the Presidential and Provostial recommendations, the mental health landscape at U of T has already changed. New issues and stressors related to affordability and the experience of international students have been identified. The Student Mental Health Team continues to monitor these emerging issues and seek opportunities to collaborate with university partners and colleagues across colleges, divisions, and departments, all of whom have a shared interest in improving supports and services for our students.