Osgoode plays lead role in strengthening mental health supports for Ontario’s law students

Osgoode Hall Law School is set to play a lead role in addressing the mental health concerns of Ontario’s law students.

The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities announced on Oct. 4 that Osgoode will receive $92,606 in funding over two years so it can work with five other Ontario law schools to develop and implement mental health supports and resources for Ontario’s 4,100 law students and future lawyers.

Partnering with Osgoode in the Ontario Law Student Mental Health Initiative will be the law Faculties of the University of Toronto, University of Ottawa (Common Law Section), University of Windsor, Queen’s University and Western University.

Melanie Banka Goela _crop“Mental health is something that all of Ontario’s law schools are concerned about,” said Osgoode’s Student Success and Wellness Counsellor Melanie Banka Goela (right). She spearheaded the law school collaboration. “Having all of these law schools – including the involvement of law students – talking about legal education and how it might hinder mental health, and what we can be doing as a collective to address this in a positive way, is a huge step in the right direction.”

Banka Goela said the six law schools will work together to develop a website that will provide information to law students about mental health concerns and provide specific diversity-sensitive resources and referrals. In addition, the schools will expand and improve peer support options available to Ontario law students.

“The overall aim is to provide consistent and accessible information to law students about their mental health and well being, to encourage help-seeking and increase avenues of support for law students,” said Banka Goela, who graduated from Osgoode in 2003 and later obtained a master’s degree in counselling psychology.

Banka Goela returned to Osgoode in the 2012-2013 academic year as the school’s first student success and wellness counsellor. She provided confidential support services last year to 105 Osgoode students – about 12 per cent of the student body. Some of the issues raised by those students had to do with stress, anxiety, depression, relationship challenges, grief or loss, abuse, physical health problems, academic difficulty, sexual orientation, disability, inequity and exclusion.

Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin praised Banka Goela for her leadership and also acknowledged the work of Mya Bulwa, assistant dean, students, and the Office of Admissions & Student Services in helping to address the mental health and wellness concerns of law students. “It is great to see the Ontario law schools collaborating on such an important initiative,” Sossin said.

As part of Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, the province is investing $27 million over three years to provide new services and supports to postsecondary students at Ontario’s colleges and universities.