Written by Marcus Lomboy (Senior Research Assistant), Tiffany Lee , Christopher Simpson, Isabel Bowman & Maliha Sarwar (Design Research Assistant)
Mental health is a complex issue. And designing a service that effectively meets the needs of a diverse student body is an equally wicked problem. In an effort to better understand the experiences of students accessing campus mental health supports, the Innovation Hub partnered with Health & Wellness (H&W) at the University of Toronto (U of T). The partnership began over the summer of 2021 over a series of group co-creation sessions. Continuing into the 2021-2022 fall and winter terms, we continued the co-design process by reaching out to students who accessed same-day appointments.
Over the year, we analyzed over 120 responses which explored student experiences across each stage of the appointment process. In examining the data, we found it interesting to see the big wins and opportunities for improvement that students highlighted.
We found a noticeable difference in how students experiences H&W mental health services. Students responded positively to changes being made at H&W, praising the increased accessibility to mental health services, the individualized care they received from clinicians, and the empathy displayed by H&W staff. Responses from students accessing same-day appointments show that efforts are being made to change the collectively held narratives about H&W. Access to same-day appointments, for example, have addressed previous student concerns around long wait times
In this blog post, we will be sharing highlights from the team’s personal reflections on the process of collaborating with H&W to meet students’ needs. Beyond this phase of our research, we all look forward to seeing how H&W will continue to engage students in future co-design.
In The Room Where It Happens
Through this work, the project team had the opportunity to be the conduit for student voices and their experiences accessing mental health services on-campus. As students ourselves, each member of the team felt they had the responsibility to center and amplify student experiences in each of our conversations with H&W. This empathy-based approach informed our recommendations, underlining the importance of honouring the stories students shared with us through their responses.
“This project resonated with me from the very beginning, as it came with a great deal of social responsibility, and the possibility for real social impact for a community I have deep roots in. In the design research I took great care to effectively represent student voices, advocate for their needs to Health and Wellness leadership and staff, and generally promote the value of student engagement throughout the design of mental health services.” – Isabel Bowman
The Importance of Collaboration
A common theme in the team’s personal reflections was the value of working directly with stakeholders across U of T. The project gave the team the opportunity to integrate experiences shared by students with recommendations shared directly with H&W. The ability to understand the inner workings of H&W through our conversations with staff and senior leadership informed the approach we took when analyzing the survey responses.
“I enjoyed getting to work so directly with the staff team at Health and Wellness. It allowed me to better understand how staff approached supporting students. Seeing the process through the eyes of different groups of staff at Health and Wellness showed us how much they cared about their work and the students they served. Gaining a new perspective was very valuable in analyzing our data and developing suggestions for solutions to some of the challenges we saw.” – Maliha Sarwar
“The collaboration between our team and Health and Wellness was fantastic! I felt that I was co-learning alongside the staff throughout the entire research process. While explaining student feedback to staff, we were also learning more about the staff themselves and the many resources, services, and opportunities they offer to students. After this experience, I now have a deeper appreciation for community collaboration in research, especially as it relates to student wellness.” – Christopher Simpson
Understanding the Limitations
As the team gained a better understanding of both sides of the coin—the student perspective of accessing services and the H&W perspective of delivering them—the way we approached analyzing the data evolved. Over the course of the project, the team often found itself adapting to existing constraints, which shaped how we communicated with our partners at H&W.
“I enjoyed learning how to translate data insights into stories and communicate them to Health and Wellness staff and admin. I felt responsible for accurately conveying the data. The responsibility of translating stories from students helped me appreciate the power of data and taught me how to adapt to its constraints and limitations.” – Tiffany Lee