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U of C Mental Health Strategy aims to make campus well-being a priority

By Eula Mengullo, September 29 2022

September marks Suicide Prevention Month. In the United Kingdom, the Zero Suicide Initiative has been introduced in health-care settings as well as post-secondary institutions. In Canada, there have been considerations that Canadian post-secondaries should follow suit.

At the University of Calgary, the Campus Mental Health Strategy aims to create a caring campus community. Born out of this similar vision is the U of C Suicide Awareness and Prevention Framework. The framework was developed in 2019 and was officially launched in November 2020. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Dr. Andrew Szeto — the director of Campus Mental Health Strategy — describes the ongoing campus initiatives pertaining to mental health and suicide prevention. 

“The Campus Mental Health Strategy does prioritization, and about three and a half years ago suicide came up as something that we have to address more on our campus,” said Szeto. “We listened to students, faculty members, staff members. It was an opportunity because we [already] had some things, we have some programming and other things to address suicide on campus, but we needed to do more.”

Modeled after the Zero Suicide Initiative, U of C’s Suicide Awareness and Prevention Framework takes a holistic approach grounded by the principle that zero suicide is the only acceptable goal. 

“The [zero suicide approach] was started by the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre in the United States and has picked up in various places like the United Kingdom post-secondaries. In Canada, we’re one of the first [universities] to take it on, if not the first,” said Szeto. 

The Zero Suicide Initiative is guided by pillars including training, identification of suicide risk, engaging with individuals who are at risk, treatment and transition to resources and continuous improvement. While Szeto recognizes that these pillars were created within a healthcare context, U of C’s Suicide Awareness and Prevention Framework was adjusted to be adaptable for the post-secondary community. 

The U of C framework is led by seven pillars: Lead, Educate, Identify and Connect, Engage, Guide and Assess, Transition and Improve.

However, Szeto also recognizes that as a post-secondary community, the scope of services on campus is limited due to funding and resources. Hence, the framework also aims to transition individuals to the appropriate community resources. 

“We want to educate our campus community to understand mental health generally, to create that [community of] caring and support, especially with peers,” said Szeto. “We want to identify students that are at risk, connect them with resources that they want to engage with and reach out to students through supportive outreach. We want to guide students to appropriate resources because as a post-secondary institution, we may or may not have the scope or resources to support students who are [facing] major mental illnesses.”

Consequently, the framework also prioritizes student transition to campus after engaging in treatment and accessing the correct resources appropriate for them. 

Being in such a fast-paced environment where it’s easy to place mental health in the back burner, Szeto emphasized the significance of prioritizing mental and physical well-being in post-secondary institutions. 

“In a post-secondary institution, there’s a culture of achievement and productivity, whether it’s the students or faculty members. We really need to put an emphasis on mental health, [because] if people really think about it, addressing our mental health will actually help us [become] more productive and efficient — it will help us achieve [more] academically because of the correlation between mental health and academics,” said Szeto. 

Additionally, Szeto addressed that one of the purposes of the Mental Health Strategy is to re-think campus culture and post-secondary institutions to be more supportive.

“What we really want to do is change the culture on campus to be more supportive. One way we can do that is to really re-think post-secondary. There are a lot of things students can learn and gain in post-secondary beyond the knowledge [specific to their programs]. We want students to have good experiences, to connect with others, to gain lots of skills beyond what’s in their discipline.”

In terms of available resources on campus, there are a variety of services that students can access through the Student Wellness Services. These include mental health services, including a few training courses specific to suicide awareness and prevention. 

Lastly, Szeto also encourages students to take part in UFlourish, an annual celebration of mental health consisting of workshops and activities happening from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. 

To explore and sign up for UFlourish events, visit their website. To learn more about the Campus Mental Health Strategy and Suicide Awareness and Prevention Framework, visit the Student Wellness Services online.

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