Robin D. Everall, 61, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Alberta and a researcher on suicidal behavior in young adults, has been named an associate dean of students. In her new role, she will continue the work she undertook in several other administrative positions to develop and enhance student mental-health programs on the campus. Here is her account of those efforts, as told to Ann Schnoebelen.
Emotional and mental-health disorders are having a dramatic impact on student academic success and student retention. Universities and colleges now see helping students cope with those disorders as part of their mandate.
During my recent year as provost's fellow of student mental health, I was asked to look at student mental-health services on our campus and other campuses around North America. I visited other institutions, spoke with faculty at other universities, and examined others' research on student mental-health services. It became clear to me that, especially at an institution as large as ours, we have to align our services with the way students seek our services, and that the whole campus has to work together to make providing quality mental-health services a priority.
Our director of the University Wellness Centre, Donna Cave, asked the Alberta government for money to support mental-health initiatives on campus, and we submitted a proposal outlining the way the funds would be used. In January the government committed to providing the university with $3-million over three years to pay for mental-health efforts on campus. In my new role, as an associate dean of students, I'll continue to be actively involved in the development and implementation of the new mental-health and wellness services and initiatives.
We're hiring more psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and social workers, and we plan to set up satellite offices in academic buildings where students can easily access psychologists and other services. The social workers will also be very visible and approachable, helping to organize and present workshops to students, faculty, and staff to raise awareness about mental-health issues and how to provide assistance. They'll also be available just to sit down for a cup of coffee and a chat.
Over all, we'll enhance our involvement with student groups and our communications programs and strategies, including the use of social media. By providing fundamental support and helping develop resilience in our whole university population, we can mitigate some issues or make it possible to intervene earlier when they're less problematic.
These efforts are going to be part of a longstanding, ongoing campaign to be mindful of student mental-health issues. I recognize it's going to take some time and patience to put the message out that we all have a role to play. Everyone across a campus must recognize our collective responsibility of making sure students are healthy.