Minister Wilkinson, distinguished guests:
I am honoured by the opportunity to speak to you today about mental health and how UBC is encouraging healthy minds on healthy campuses, an issue I am personally involved in, as I will explain in a minute.
First I am glad CMHA BC is considering endorsing the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities.
We are proud of the Charter, which came out of the ground-breaking work at the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges, held at the UBC Okanagan campus in Kelowna.
We were the first university to adopt the Charter.
In 2016 I signed the Charter on behalf of the university, formally adopting UBC’s commitment to advancing wellbeing by embedding it into our teaching, learning and working environments.
We are fully committed to the Charter because we strongly believe there is a need for social and emotional learning support and resources across the education spectrum, in particular in higher education.
Mental health is a significant issue: one in five Canadians will have a mental health problem or illness this year. While conversations about mental health are now happening more frequently, many people are reluctant to talk about mental health, with four in 10 Canadian workers saying they would likely ignore or hide a mental illness diagnosis.
That is why I am heartened by the CMHA BC’s b4stage4 campaign, with its focus on prevention, early identification and early intervention.
As CMHA BC notes on the b4stage4 website, we’d never allow our system of care to treat cancer the way we treat mental illness and addiction. We should be educating, screening and taking action early. Yet people are often left waiting for care. Some are too ashamed to even ask for help. The standard of treatment should be equal between mental and physical health conditions.
Mental health issues are especially relevant to young people. One study shows 15 percent of university students are diagnosed with a mental illness while in university – and that doesn’t include those who don’t seek treatment.
Students – whether elementary, high school, or university students – are especially vulnerable – and we need to ensure there are supports for them, from kindergarten through Grade 12 through college and university.
It is important to integrate mental health and well-being discussions at all stages of education.
Naturally, my focus is on university education, but that is not to deny the importance of K-12.
With regard to university students, many of them are away from home for the first time, without the support of their family and friends, in a new, confusing and seemingly uncaring environment; at a time in their lives when they are still developing – in that vulnerable stage between childhood and maturity.
I can speak from personal experience.
When I was younger, I suffered from depression and twice tried to take my own life – first when I was a teenager and then in my late 20s.
I partied hard, and I also studied hard. Took foolish risks. Learned the hard way that balance and the support of family, friends and colleagues are important.
I would not have made it through what were some very dark times in my life without support.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel. If you have the proper counseling and support, it’s really possible for you to move past that and move back into functioning life.
But first we have to ensure the proper supports are there, and that we make them available to our students – and to the other members of our university family.
Therefore, I am determined – and UBC is determined – to ensuring that members of the UBC community – whether students, faculty or staff – have the support they need, when they need it.
UBC is committed to healthy and sustainable workplaces, undergraduate and graduate student experiences, and the development of a vibrant intellectual community.
This commitment includes a commitment to enhancing mental health and wellbeing of students, staff and faculty.
One example of this is Thrive.
Thrive is both a mindset and an annual week-long series of events focused on building positive mental health for everyone at UBC. You can learn more about Thrive at thrive.ubc.ca.
Thrive began as an idea between two colleagues at the UBC Vancouver campus in the spring of 2009.
They shared common goals in wanting to help create a campus environment that better understood the importance of mental health and wellbeing as well as one that was supportive of individuals to make choices that promoted not only healthy bodies but healthy minds.
Creating this type of a cultural shift was not going to be an easy task but they decided to try a new approach: creating wellbeing programming to include student, staff and faculty audiences.
Thrive grew over the years. It expanded to Okanagan in 2011.
By 2013, it had over 50 partners and 70 events. It has since won awards and been recommended as an example for other institutions to emulate.
Thrive helps to create a more supportive environment at UBC; by raising awareness of the connection between mental health, wellbeing and academic success; and by linking students to services and resources that help build positive mental health.
UBC’s Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy addresses the following areas:
- Institutional policies and practices
- Providing a supportive environment
- Mental health awareness and self-management skills
- Early identification of students needing assistance and connection to appropriate resources
- Adequate, timely mental health services
- Case management and risk mitigation protocols
As I mentioned, students in particular need our support, because they are at a vulnerable period in their lives – a period of great changes and upheavals, and a period when passing and failing has serious consequences.
But I am hopeful that today’s students – given the proper support – can thrive. The students at UBCs two campuses are a real inspiration to me, very empathetic towards each other.
Many of them have seen someone take their own lives. Today, young people are much more aware of what’s happening than when I was in university, and that’s a good thing.
It’s motivating them to do something about it. It’s motivating them to demand adults and leaders within organizations to do something about it.
But not just students, UBC is also committed to the mental health and wellbeing of the entire university community.
health and wellbeing of staff and faculty is a fundamental component of the University’s commitment to building and maintaining an outstanding work environment.
To create a healthy, inspiring workplace that cultivates wellbeing, resilience and commitment, the University focuses on an integrated approach that address both staff and faculty member’s individual skills and knowledge of resources, as well as the organizational culture of workplaces to better support healthy behaviors and access to healthy choices.
The University’s commitment to diversify and expand healthy workplace initiatives focuses on:
- The development and support of organizational culture that challenges mental health stigma and supports mental resiliency
- Early intervention for staff and faculty needing assistance and referral to mental health resources
- Institutional practices
- The development of individual understanding of mental health and mental illness
- The expansion of awareness of mental health resources and access to mental health screenings and educational trainings
Again, Thrive addresses these objectives by helping to create a more supportive environment at UBC, by raising awareness of the connection between mental health and wellbeing and workplace practices and by linking staff and faculty to services and resources to build positive mental health.
I’ve outlined some of the ways UBC supports its community members – its students, faculty and staff. I am glad we have such supports in place today.
When I was younger, there were fewer supports available, but I did have some significant help, for which I am grateful.
For the last 25 years, I’ve been symptom-free. A big part of the balance in my life is that I have a loving family, and they’re there for me.
I recognize that not everybody has those supports, and that’s why it’s important that initiatives like Thrive and commitments like the Okanagan Charter are encouraged and emulated.