Get talking, Tuesday is York U Let’s Talk Mental Health day

Let’s Talk. York University is holding a York U Let’s Talk Mental Health day in conjunction with Bell Canada’s national campaign to foster dialogue and to help increase awareness, reduce stigma and create a mentally healthy campus for students, staff and faculty.

Mental health is an issue that is often overlooked, but it is a very real concern for the York community. In a 2009, student health and wellness survey of six Ontario universities, some 64 per cent of York respondents reported finding academic work traumatic or very difficult to handle, citing stress, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression as major factors impacting their academic performance. The same survey also found that 35 per cent of York’s long-term disability cases are due to a mental health condition.

That’s why York is hosting an information fair featuring on-campus resource groups and student clubs on Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Vari Hall and the CIBC lobby from 10am to 3pm. York is hoping to increase awareness of mental health issues, as well as available resources and how all members of the York community can access them.

In addition, a Community Dialogue event for students, faculty and staff will be held in the Tribute Community Recital Hall, Accolade East Building, from noon to 2pm. This live webcast event will allow for participation in person, as well as through tweets (#yumentalhealth) and at The event is designed to encourage dialogue around mental health to help students succeed.

Let'sTalkThe Community Dialogue will include a video from Olympian and York honorary degree recipient Clara Hughes – Canadian cyclist and speed skater – directed to the York community. A panel of participants representing undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty and administration will also discuss their thoughts and recommendations on building a mentally healthy campus.

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend and join the dialogue. The event will be webcast so that all members of the York community can be engaged in the discussion, either in person or at their desks in offices and libraries or any location with internet access.

“Mental health is an increasing concern for all universities, as a place of learning and a place of work and study for everyone in our community. Given that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives, those with whom we work, study, teach and counsel may often LesleyBeagriesuffer in silence, with nowhere to turn to be heard and directed to resources to handle stressors in their lives,” says Lesley Beagrie, associate dean, professional & global program, Faculty of Health. “The York U Let’s Talk Mental Health event will provide an opportunity for our community to share their thoughts on what a mentally healthy campus would look like.”

Lesley Beagrie

A 2009 health survey of university and college students showed that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed reported feeling overwhelmed, while more than 85 per cent reported being exhausted by stress, worry and anxiety. In addition, with one in five Canadians experiencing some form of mental illness in their lives, it is of paramount importance that students, staff and faculty concerns are heard.

The focus of York U Let’s Talk Mental Health is to foster open dialogue on mental health and wellness, to break down barriers and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. York recognizes that a holistic view of mental health is needed, one that takes into account the many factors that contribute to wellness, including resources, nutrition, fitness, stress reduction and good sleep habits.

York is committed to the development of an integrated mental health strategy that will address the mental health needs of students, faculty and staff. The strategy will focus on ways whereby resources contribute to a healthy campus and are primarily focused on prevention and wellness. The YU Let’s Talk Mental Health activities, with participation and input from students, faculty and staff, will help inform the details of that strategy.

“Considering wellness is a pre-condition for learning and working, it is our responsibility to provide a mentally healthy community for all those who are part of York. I believe that we are opening a door to a conversation, long overdue, which will help direct us to build a responsive and comprehensive mental health strategy for our University,” says Beagrie.

Another way York University is taking mental health seriously is by training faculty and staff on how to help students with mental health issues through a new, soon to launch, software Moodle training program – Mental Health EDU. The program is part of the Healthy Campus project, working to promote pan-University awareness and conversations about the importance of physical and mental wellness. It is supported by York University’s Student Community & Leadership Development (SCLD), which received an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grant to purchase the training software.

Mental Health EDU is an online 20-minute mental-health program designed to assist faculty and staff in understanding how to help students in distress using an approach that fits their individual comfort levels.

Participants will learn to interpret the signs of distress commonly exhibited by students. They will also attend a workshop that will provide specific suggestions for reaching out to students. Realistic exercises will be presented that allow participants to evaluate the impact of taking (or not taking) certain steps.

By the end of the training, participants should have an understanding of the following:

  • frequent causes of student distress;
  • the impact of mental health issues on students and the campus community;
  • guidelines as they refer to confidentiality and student privacy;
  • and campus resources for students in distress.

For more information on Mental Health EDU, see the Jan. 29 YFile article.