Many of us have shifted into a new reality of learning, working, and connecting with our loved ones. As we return to campus in our relative capacities, we reflect on how this may look for everyone – especially within the scope of mental health. At a time of social distancing, it is incredibly important for every individual to have support and access to the resources they need. That’s why at the Innovation Hub, we’ve been thinking deeply of how our insights from previous (and ongoing work) with students can be shared to our campus community. Our objective is to help support students by designing spaces grounded in a culture of care at the University of Toronto.
We connected with Joshua Grondin, a Master of Education student in Higher Education at OISE and past Vice-President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). Joshua is also a part of Students for Barrier-free Access, a levy-funded student group that advocates for disabled and mad-identified students on campus. Through these capacities, Joshua has a great deal of empathy for the many realities at the University. Especially when it comes to mental health, wellness and understanding where culture of care principles come into play between individuals and the University.
Adapting to the Needs of the Community
One topic of discussion Joshua and I really reflected on was this narrative shift, with respect to mental health, that occurred in the past year or so at an institutional level on campus. As services evolve to better reflect student needs, there are many facets for how students can seek support, whether it may be services, student-based groups, community resources, and more. The UofT student experience is incredibly intersectional despite how disconnected or isolating it can feel at times. In this virtual age, perhaps more spaces and groups can be connected through online resources that are inherently more accessible for the broader population at UofT. This concept was deeply reflected in our Designing a Culture of Care report when thinking about the needs of students.
New Approach to Navigating Resources at UofT
I asked Joshua “In light of everything going on, what is something you’d like every student to hear or have access to this semester?”. Joshua wonderfully said, “I want students to feel like they have the resources to have support and connections on campus. To know that there are options – both within UofT and beyond”.
Indeed, from our data at the Innovation Hub, we’ve found that students might not discover resources and opportunities until they either connect with others in their community or feel like they have the capacity to do so. At these points, many times they feel like it’s too late to engage. Stemming from this insight, one of our design principles from our Designing a Culture of Care report includes the university providing a clear path to care. Examples of this involve keeping frontline staff informed of available services, creating simple and standardized access to support across websites, and having good referral practices that are consistent and well-communicated.
Towards the end of our conversation, Joshua emphasized that we’ve never had a school year start off like this! In these jarring times of COVID-19, we are seeing colleges and faculties come together like never before to support students directly. Nonetheless, Joshua pointed out how campus might not always be the best place to find these resources in a timely manner. More of our findings at the Innovation Hub further support how students find it difficult to navigate mental health services – especially when these services are found at various campuses, colleges, and faculties. To tackle this issue, UofT has launched an informational tool for wayfinding called NAVI (short for navigator) as a response to the report issued by the Presidential and Provostial Task Force. This mental health virtual agent helps navigate students to a variety of resources depending on the matter such as stress, discrimination, anxiety, loneliness, abuse, accessibility, and much more. To learn more about this tool, click here.
Committing to a Future of Care in our Everyday Lives
Creating a culture of care on campus starts off with embedding care in our everyday lives, from the minute you step on campus to your graduation day. It is found within our students, professors, faculties and residences. It is found on our campus, through providing accessible spaces to support students’ well-being. Building this community of support at UofT requires us to understand our diverse student body and each of their lived experiences. All of this will take time to build, but we are a step in the right direction.
To learn how students, staff and community can help create a culture of care at UofT through some of our design principles of care:
A Sincere Thank you to Our Contributors
Kaitlyn Corlett, Senior Project Assistant
Joshua Grondin, MEd Student in Higher Education at OISE
Betelehem Gulilat, Fall-Winter 2020-21 Lead Writer & Editor
Terri Lynn, Summer 2020 Lead Writer & Editor
Links to Resources
Provided are some UofT & community-based resources that might be supportive for individuals at they explore their options on health and wellness. We want to acknowledge this is not an exhaustive list. There are many additional resources that are community-specific beyond campus services and you are welcome to comment below with resources or opportunities that have been helpful for you!
UofT Mental Health ResourcesUofT Mental Health Wayfinder 'NAVI'
Call: 416-408-HELP (4357)
UofT Student Support GroupsStudents for Barrier-free Access
Graduate Student Resources
Provided are some of many resources that are available for graduate studentsGrad Minds
Additional Services Available to all StudentsDowntown Toronto - Health and Wellness Centre
Additional ResourcesSafety & Support
Mental Health Resources for Faculty & StaffEmployee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP)
Appointed faculty and staff have access to the Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP), offered through Homewood Health, online and by phone at 1-800-663-1142.
Other Resources and Suggestions
These are some further resources and suggestions provided by our community for supporting mental health. These are not crisis supports. Not all of these will be the right choice for everyone as each one of us is different and we all require different forms of support and care.Therapy and Support Groups
- Big White Wall – an online peer-to-peer support community, free for all Ontario residents: https://www.bigwhitewall.com/?lang=en-ca
- Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour Peer Support Group – a respectful and safe space to discuss mental health challenges as they relate to the complex identities and experiences of racial minorities in Ontario: https://www.mooddisorders.ca/node/1285
- Umbrella Mental Health Network (UMHN) – offers psychology and psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, and families in the LGBTQ+ community: https://www.umhn.ca/services-offered/
- Anishnawbe Health Toronto: 416-360-0486 – the organization offers a healing centre for the Aboriginal Community of Toronto: http://aht.ca/
- How does nature impact our wellbeing? Free access to nature at the UofT Green House during all seasons: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing
- Practice mindfulness to manage academic stress – free classes and workshops on campus: https://studentlife.utoronto.ca/department/health-wellness/#node-6661
- The Sad Ghost Club – comics that provide knowledge and compassion for all those experiencing the different sides of mental health: https://www.instagram.com/theofficialsadghostclub/