Western is bringing conversations about mental health to the forefront, and students now have two ways to join the conversation — a recently released draft mental health plan and a plebiscite question they can vote on next week.
On Jan. 28th, Western released the draft student mental health and wellness strategic plan, inviting students to provide feedback.
The plan identifies four key strategic objectives: promoting a resilient campus community, developing effective mental health communication, developing an inclusive curriculum to support student mental health, and providing accessible mental health and wellness services. Each objective is further split into several goals and a number of recommended strategies.
“In 2015, the student mental health advisory committee was struck because Western really recognized that student mental health is one of the most pressing issues for post-secondary students on campus,” said Deb Chiodo, Western’s mental health strategist.
Western initiated the plan in spring 2016 by hiring Chiodo for consultation, according to Rick Ezekiel, the interim senior director of student experience. Chiodo collected input from over 2,000 members from the campus community by holding focus groups and meetings on mental health and well-being between August 2016 and February 2017.
“We were both pleased and actually surprised with how many people came forward wanting to participate,” she said.
Last Sunday, vice-provost John Doerksen released the draft mental health strategic plan to Western’s community via email, requesting feedback to guide further review of the plan.
“What we really wanted to do with the mental health strategic plan is recognize that student mental health and wellness is a whole-institution responsibility,” said Ezekiel. “It's not just [Western’s] health and wellness service providers like student health services or the student development center who are responsible for health and wellness.”
Ezekiel reports receiving over 60 emails providing feedback on day one of the plan’s release.
“I would say one of the most common themes across all emails is that folks are really appreciative and glad that that the university was doing this, so I think it communicates that this is a priority for Western,” he added.
Ezekiel also received some feedback on ensuring the plan uses language that identifies initiatives that support and reflect the perspectives of marginalized socio-demographic groups on campus, such as the indigenous students’, the LGBTQ + community, and racialized students.
Western will use the feedback to revise the plan. If approved, the official plan will be released in spring 2018.
Ezekiel encourages students to provide their input over the next week.
“Student feedback is absolutely critical to this plan being successful,” said Ezekiel. “It's a great opportunity to be heard and to have an impact, not just for students right now, but for the next generations of students over the coming years.”
Mental health is also being prioritized in the University Students' Council elections.
During next week's elections, the ballot will feature a mental health plebiscite posing the following question to students:
"Would you like to see student mental health and wellness included as a high priority of Western’s Strategic Plan in perpetuity, potentially at the expense of the funding and support of other priorities?"
The plebiscite question will be available for voting online during the USC elections on Feb. 5 and 6. Students can also provide feedback on Western's draft mental health strategic plan via email at firstname.lastname@example.org until Feb. 9, 2018.
Correction (Feb. 2, 2018 at 7:45 p.m.): this article has been updated to reflect the mental health question is a plebiscite, not a referendum.