Advisors assemble to support student mental health

(Edmonton) Student mental health is a subject of growing importance across Canada, but nowhere will it be more important today than at the University of Alberta as the 28th annual student advisors’ conference takes place.

This year’s event is singly focused on the mental health issue, and is likely the first of its kind in the country. Entitled It Takes a Campus: Supporting Student Mental Health, the event welcomes attendees from the U of A’s campuses as well as from other institutions in Alberta. And organizers say the subject is of such importance to institutions across the province that registration has reached capacity.

The event is an opportunity for student advisors to network and discuss best practices on common issues that students face regardless of institution. This year’s theme, spearheaded by Robin Everall, associate dean of students at the U of A, is one that she says demonstrates the institution’s leadership on the subject.

“We’ve got over 200 people registered from nine different institutions. There’s a real appetite for people learning about this and being part of the solution,” she said. “I think that speak volumes about the U of A.”

She says research has shown that community involvement is crucial to addressing the challenge, and that the campus as a whole is instrumental in creating the culture where students can maintain or regain their mental health.

“We’ve really designed a comprehensive, thoughtful and coherent way of delivering our services,” said Everall. “We’re working at all different levels of the university to build a more collegial and a more aware environment.”

Everall notes that student advisors are the academy’s front line—they are in regular contact with students and are, essentially, the people who set the tone of whether students feel connected to the university—so it’s important to get support staff involved and understand why they are critical players in this type of initiative. She is pleased to have such a response and hopes attendees leave the conference with a renewed sense of empowerment and desire to deal with these issues.

“It’s the perfect place to start with people who care, who are highly involved with students and who have access to knowing what the resources are on campus—and can provide some guidance to students if they ask for it,” said Everall. “That makes this conference quite different. It’s exciting.”

The event is broken up into presentations and discussions, led by Jonathan Morris, director of public policy and campus mental health for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division. The discussion periods will be an opportunity for institutions to build on the ideas presented in the keynote address and to adapt initiatives the U of A has undertaken into their own student mental health programs.

Everall says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with mental health issues, so finding tailored programs that suit the population is key. And it’s a key that the U of A will continue working diligently to perfect.

“In that way, we are leading. I think other institutions are going to be able to look at what we are doing, large and small, and look at how the pieces are going together,” said Everall. “They’ll be able to pick out what will work for them.

“I think we’re on the right track. In four or five years, this institution will look quite different in terms of how services are offered in the multiple ways that students will be able to access those services.”

Fast facts

  • Twenty per cent of Canadians will struggle with a mental health issue within their lifetime.
  • Youth aged 15 to 24 years are highly vulnerable to developing and displaying emergent mental health issues.