Faculty of Student Development
Student Wellness Report: Building a Community That Cares
This report presents recent work at Thompson Rivers University to examine our current state of mental health supports for students, to define our desired future state of student mental health and the gaps between our current situation and that future state, and finally to identify and prioritize possible solutions to address those gaps. The report ends with recommendations for implementing those solutions through the oversight of an advisory committee.
Student Wellness Desired Future State
TRU learners will thrive in an educational and social environment in which:
President's Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force (2017-18)
In November 2017, Dr. Alan Shaver, Thompson Rivers University President and Vice Chancellor at the time, announced the creation of the President’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Task Force and asked that it provide advice and support to the President and the senior executive to support TRU’s commitment to foster healthy attitudes and behaviours that support the health and wellness of its students, faculty, and staff.
The task force was also asked to determine TRU’s readiness to sign onto the Okanagan Charter and to meet the commitments involved in doing so. Created in June 2015, the Charter provides institutions with a common language, principles, and framework to become health and wellbeing promoting campuses. Since 2015, twenty-two institutions have signed onto the Charter and posted their commitments to advancing the goals of the Charter. The Okanagan International Charter for Health Promoting University and Colleges, calls on post-secondary schools to:
- Embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations, and academic mandates.
- Lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally
The Task Force was asked to recommend policy, protocols, procedures, information, and education to address the following objectives:
- Report on TRU’s readiness to adopt the Okanagan Charter and make recommendations for phased adoption1
- Make recommendations for policy revisions, or new policies, that support the wellness of the TRU community
- Ensure TRU is strategically and tactically prepared to respond to increased demands for mental health and other health supports on its campuses
- Strengthen TRU’s connections to service providers in the Kamloops and Williams Lake communities
1While the current project did not have a mandate to make recommendations on the adoption of the Okanagan Charter at TRU, this can be addressed through the implementation of recommendations.
The Task Force undertook the work during the fall and winter semesters of the 2017/18 academic year via six working groups: Academic Considerations (Learning environments, policies, and practices), Health-Related Services and Supports, Alcohol and Other Substance Use, Spaces, Physical Environment, Policy and Procedure Implications, and Analysis of Health-Related Data.
Changes in institutional leadership and competing priorities led to delays in the submission of the task force report. Indeed, the report on the work, including recommendations, has never been submitted.2 Additionally, new frameworks for student mental health have been developed since the Task Force did its initial work (e.g., the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services’ Framework for Post-Secondary Student Mental Health and Canadian Standards Association’s National Standard of Canada for Mental-Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students). Further, universities continue to be informed by results from national health surveys. TRU has three points of data from the National College Health Assessment (2013, 2016, 2019) in which students have reported on their mental health, among other aspects of their overall health.
2In the meantime, many of the recommendations under development in the Task Force have already been implemented, and the institution now finds itself in an even better position to adopt the Okanagan Charter and act on the commitments inherent in that adoption.
The emergence of COVID 19 in early 2020 has impacted student mental health, increasing the urgency and importance of returning to this work. In the fall of 2020, discussions among TRUSU, TRU World and Student Development led to a decision to hire Kris McCleery Consulting to facilitate the current project with an overarching aim to identify and prioritize future investments in student mental health.
Under the sponsorship of the Associate Vice-President – Students, this project has engaged TRU students, faculty, and staff stakeholders primarily through online settings. Representatives from Counselling, TRU World, Indigenous Student Development, the Wellness Centre (including student wellness ambassadors), Accessibility Services, and Student Affairs have participated.
- Define desired future state of student wellness.
- Create an inventory of the mental health supports available to TRU students.
- Identify gaps in current service models and / or gaps in communications about mental health services and supports
- Identify opportunities to refer between mental health services, within TRU and within the communities we serve (Kamloops, Williams Lake).
- Engage the TRU community (defined as TRU faculty, staff, and students) so that they feel consulted about this work and participate in identifying possible solutions to address identified gaps.
- Prioritize identified solutions, considering feasibility.
- Support implementation of priority solutions to fill gaps.
Phase 1: Discovery: Project background document review, project scoping and planning
- Reviewed background documents relevant to the project
- Identified project objectives, requirements, and scope
- Identified project stakeholders, champions, and potential barriers
Phase 2: Problem definition
- Defined desired future state of student wellness and reviewed current supports that are in place and evaluated their effectiveness against the future state. The outcome of this phase was a gap analysis and fulsome description of the gaps in student wellness supports.
Phase 3: Solution exploration
- Given the problem definition and gap analysis findings, defined the full range of solutions to the problem and their pros and cons with identified stakeholders. The outcome of this phase was a list of potential solutions and their pros and cons.
Phase 4: Solution selection
- Identified essential and distinguishing criteria against which to evaluate potential solutions. Evaluated the potential solutions according to both essential and distinguishing criteria. The outcome of this phase is the prioritization of solutions based on those criteria.
Phase 5: Solution implementation (to come)
- Support implementation of the solutions by guiding and coaching the project lead in implementation. The outcome of this phase will be effective implementation of a durable solution (or solutions) to student wellness.
A summary (and potential sequencing) of recommendations below presents all the solutions in four categories. 5 The 7 recommendations that are Quick and Affordable are sequenced first, because they are inexpensive and require little planning and preparation to implement. Ideally, they are implementable within 6 months to a year from the start of implementation. The second level of sequence presents 7 recommendations labelled Slow and Affordable because solutions in this category have low costs but require more preparation. These are anticipated to take between 1 and 2 years to complete. The third category is Quick and Costly, because they are high cost and require low levels of preparation. There are no solutions in this category. The remaining nine solutions are categorized as Slow and Costly, requiring more time and resources to implement. These may take between 2 to 3 years to complete.
1: Quick and affordable
- Provide clear information about evening and weekend counselling options (e.g., Here2Talk)
- Provide mental health information in family study room in HoL and breastfeeding room
- Provide virtual counselling appointment options
- Consider means by which selected peer mentors / SWAT leaders include students with all types of family responsibilities
- Provide elder support for counsellors
- Implement a practice of providing honoraria for elders that honours their contributions to wellness and mental health programming
- Develop cross training activities for Counselling, Accessibility Services, and Student Affairs
2: Slow and affordable
- Regularly update TRU Safe App to include information specific to mental health
- Evaluate current use of online live chat in Wellness Centre and determine whether to expand to other peer mentor groups and increase hours
- Develop means to reduce barriers to access emergency funding across campus
- Work with Finance Department to have emergency funds direct deposited
- Consider means for students to book counselling appointments online
- Provide on-going cultural training in decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion for staff and faculty involved in mental health programming
- Complete drafting of Student At-Risk Policy and Procedures
3: Quick and costly
- none identified
4: Slow and costly
- Develop groups (i.e., support groups, social groups, etc.) specifically for students with family responsibilities
- Develop ‘Outreach’ days where different staff (e.g., Case Managers) attend in areas such as TRU World or TRUSU to engage with students
- Continue to enhance the mental health literacy of student leaders participating in peer programs (e.g., Orientation ambassadors, Supplemental Learning Leaders, Student Storytellers)
- Provide training in trauma-informed practice for staff/faculty in all mental health and mental health related programs/services
- Hire counsellors from different cultures
- Employ more counsellors to help mitigate the number of students requiring appointments and to allow for on-going relationships
- Consider how to improve and promote mental health group/workshop offerings and skillsbased counselling
- Implement recommendations arising from 2021-22 suicide prevention education project6
- Consider integrating practica students and peer leaders into counselling and other mental health supports
5This categorization of recommendations is based on work developed by TransFocus. We acknowledge and appreciate this framework for prioritizing and sequencing recommendations.
6In the summer of 2021, TRU received a $50,000 grant from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (via the Canadian Mental Health Association – BC Division) to develop suicide prevention education programming to support students at TRU. This work has recently been completed and a report is expected as a supplement to the work presented here.