Third Space Life Charity
Willowstone Academy, Kelowna
Thank you everybody for being here this evening in support of an issue that is close to my heart: student mental health and wellbeing.
This conversation is timely; as you may know, yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk Day. UBC participates in this program, which raises funds for mental health initiatives and aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness.
Mental health is one of the most widespread health issues in the country, with consequences for everyone. While one in five Canadians – regardless of age, ethnicity or income level – will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life, most will be cautious to seek treatment.
That’s why it’s so important to be able to talk openly and honestly about mental health issues.
I can speak from personal experience.
When I was young, I twice tried to take my life.
I was 14 years old the first time.
I was desperate and I was depressed about how I was doing in school.
I’m very grateful I woke up the next day.
Several years later, as a young adult, I again tried to take my life.
I was depressed because I had tried to get an experiment to work for several months and it seemed like every single time I tried the experiment wouldn’t work.
I struggled with mental health issues throughout my years at the University of Chicago, McGill University, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University.
But I kept those struggles to myself. There was a stigma around mental illness that made me reluctant to seek help.
Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have received the medical and psychological support I needed to recover.
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 always there for me.
The lesson in my story is if you have the proper counseling and support, it’s really possible for you to move past that and move back into functioning life.
While physical health is easy to measure and talk about openly, mental health is under the surface and often not talked about at all.
This prevents people from asking for the help they desperately need.
The Canadian Mental Health Association b4stage4 campaign asks a thought-provoking question – what if we waited until stage 4 to treat cancer?
We would never allow our medical system to wait that long to treat cancer. We fully expect to have preventative education, screening, and early treatment.
Now, imagine if the standard of treatment was equal between mental and physical health conditions. Not only would it significantly improve the lives of those living with a mental illness, it would save lives.
The early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders is associated with better social, academic and vocational outcomes. Untreated mental illness, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on physical health, academic outcomes and future job prospects.
At UBC our goal is to connect students to the right resources and support as early as possible, before difficulties become overwhelming.
On our UBC Okanagan campus, students seeking support for their mental health can reach out to the Health and Wellness team. We offer a “stepped care” counselling model where students can drop-in and meet with a mental health professional who will help identify their needs and connect them with the appropriate supports.
For some students this may mean further assessment and short-term counselling, or referral to a clinic physician, to community counsellors, psychiatrists or agencies.
Third Space Life Charity operates independently from UBC on our campus offering counselling and mental health care to students. They are one of the supports our counselling team will refer students to and, over the past two years, they have provided more than 2,000 counselling sessions.
Third Space and UBC are aligned in our belief in the need for accessible mental health care. I am grateful for the service they offer, which is a valuable part of a support network ensuring students get help when they need it.
Early identification and treatment are critical for young people, who are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. One study shows 15 per cent of university students are diagnosed with a mental illness while in university – and that doesn’t include those who don’t seek treatment.
Mental health issues affect students in every year of study, from first-year through graduate school.
With regard to first-year 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.
The diversity of campus communities – including students of all ages, Indigenous students, youth formerly in care, families, single parents, LGBTQ+ – brings unique challenges and requirements for support.
We need to provide resources to help students connect, build coping skills, learn to recognize early when they may need assistance, and get help 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 includes a commitment to enhancing mental health and wellbeing of students, staff and faculty.
That’s why we established UBC Wellbeing.
UBC Wellbeing is a collaborative effort to make the university a better place to live, work and learn through a systems-wide approach to wellbeing across our campuses.
The work of UBC Wellbeing is guided by the Okanagan Charter.
The Charter came about in June 2015, when UBC co-hosted the International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges here in Kelowna.
The conference brought together participants from 45 countries, representing both educational institutions and health organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNESCO.
Over three days, these organizations collaborated on the development of the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges.
In October 2016, UBC became one of the world’s first universities to adopt the Charter.
This commitment sends a powerful message about the type of institution that UBC aspires to be—one that excels in teaching, learning and research and recognizes this excellence is supported by the wellbeing of our people and places.
The Charter provides institutions with a common language, principles and framework to become a ‘health and wellbeing promoting campus’ and outlines two Calls to Action:
- To embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates;
- To lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.
These two Calls to Action guide the UBC Wellbeing approach and are the foundations of creating wellbeing for all of our communities.
Putting the Okanagan Charter into practice requires embedding health into all aspects of campus culture – administration, operations, academic, residential and social.
UBC Wellbeing focuses on six priority areas:
- Collaborative leadership
- Physical activity and sedentary behavior
- Built and natural environments
- Food and nutrition
- Social connection, and
- Mental health and resilience
We have shown our commitment through an ongoing investment that includes dedicated staff positions on UBC campuses, awareness campaigns, and other means.
One example of how we are embedding health into campus culture through UBC Wellbeing is Thrive, a month-long campaign for students, staff and faculty to promote healthy bodies and healthy minds.
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.
Thrive started at UBC as a conversation between colleagues about the importance of reducing stigma associated with mental health and has since grown into a movement celebrated at numerous campuses across Canada, providing opportunities for important conversations about mental health to take place.
I’ve been discussing UBC in detail because, it is of course, the institution with which I am most familiar. But UBC is just one element in the ecosystem of support.
All elements in the education system – from pre-school to elementary to high school to post-secondary – need to play a role in supporting our vulnerable young people.
And the education system, as a whole, needs to partner with community resources, health authorities, and government to ensure our health and wellbeing services are resourced and that we are supporting the full continuum of care.
The program offered by Third Space Life Charity at UBC is one example of a this.
Another example is the UBC School of Social Work at our Okanagan campus. It fills an existing gap in local, long-term services for children and youth with moderate to severe mental health concerns.
In addition to direct mental health interventions, the Social Work Clinic is involved in increasing mental health literacy and prevention through community initiatives such as mental health week at local high-schools and Thrive at UBC Okanagan.
We also have the Walk-In Wellness Clinic within the Psychology Clinic at UBC Okanagan, which is accessible without an appointment to all students, staff, faculty and community members at no cost.
I’ve outlined some of the ways UBC supports its students and the community. 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.
I recognize that not everybody has those supports, and that’s why it’s important that commitments like the Okanagan Charter are encouraged at UBC and community programs like those offered by Third Space Life Charity are supported.