With a report containing 36 recommendations for improving the mental well-being of University of Waterloo students now public, talk on campus is turning to exactly how and when those recommendations might be implemented.
The university’s report, which was a year in the making and was released Monday, calls for the school to incorporate mental wellness into virtually every facet of campus life, from the design of new buildings to the training of new faculty members.
The vast majority of the recommendations are long-term in nature. Nick Manning, the university’s associate vice-president of communications, says that was by design.
“This isn’t about a quick fix. This is about making sustainable change for the students at the University of Waterloo,” he said Tuesday.
“This report really gives campus a road map for a future that addresses the underlying causes of stress and concern for student mental health.”
With the release of the report came a commitment from the school to spend $1.2 million to boost its counseling staff to ensure one mental health counselor for every 1,000 students, and to offer better training to existing faculty and staff members.
“This is an incredibly high priority. We’ll be looking to act and hire those people as soon as we can,” Manning said.
Some students greeted the report and recommendations with disappointment, feeling they contained a lack of specific actions and timetables.
“Right now we just have these recommendations, but there’s no sense of any kind of action behind them,” said student Sarah Welton.
“That’s really disappointing – that they spent so much time working on this and all we have is a list of ‘Yeah, these are the things that we think we should do.’”
Welton said she was also concerned about where the money for the new counselors would come from and a lack of prioritization among the 36 recommendations.
“There’s not a lot of anything concrete,” she said.
Another student, Christine Wilson, said she was happy to see a number of the recommendations – particularly one suggesting exam schedules could be made public earlier in the term – but would have liked to see something aimed at changing campus culture.
She described Waterloo as an “academically rigorous” school where students feel significant pressure to succeed.
“If we could prevent some people from dealing with the hardships of a mental health breakdown or panic attacks by reducing the stress, that would be great,” she said.
As president of Waterloo’s Federation of Students, Antonio Brieva was one of the nine people on the task force behind the report and recommendations.
Brieva said his focus was on developing recommendations that were “tangible and actionable,” and that could lead to further action in the future.
“The conversation doesn’t end here,” he said.
“We’re not pretending that this report and the 36 recommendations are going to be some magic pill that will address all concerns around student mental health.”
Brieva said he particularly hopes to see more supports for Indigenous, international, racialized and LGBTQ students. The report found that students belonging to those groups often report feeling more isolation while on campus than their peers.
Usage of campus mental health services at Waterloo has been increasing every year for the past five years. The school’s counseling services department saw approximately 4,000 students last year, while others received support for mental heath-related issues from other departments.
With reporting by Tina Yazdani