Mental Health and Wellness: a collective responsibility

Mental Health
Students walking through campus.
Mental health and wellness are a fundamental dimension of every aspect of campus culture.

Professor Elizabeth Kristjansson, who is uOttawa’s first Advisor on Mental Health and Wellness, has published a Framework for Mental Health (PDF, 961KB) to guide the uOttawa community through the next three years to build a more caring campus and improve mental health for all. In this interview, she takes stock of the latest development.

How is mental health faring on our campus?

The 12 recommendations contained in the report published by the President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Wellness reflect the University of Ottawa’s deep commitment to mental health and wellness.

Since the report’s publication, we have made significant progress toward supporting mental health and wellness at the University of Ottawa. We adopted the National Standard of Canada for Mental Health and Well-being for Post-Secondary Students, launched a successful case management program, and piloted workshops to enhance academic and mental health skills for incoming students. The newly published Caring University Community Guide (PDF, 9.6MB) has also provided valuable support for recognizing and responding to individuals in distress. The University has established the Student Health and Wellness Centre, which integrates physical and mental health services, and obtained silver accreditation for psychological health and safety in the workplace from Excellence Canada. Moreover, the Disconnecting from Work policy, access to Employee and Family Assistance Program, telemedicine services, and other services play a significant role in enhancing the well-being of our community.

What remains to be done to foster a healthy environment?

Despite considerable advances, our University community still faces ongoing challenges when it comes to mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic changed our teaching, learning and working environments and disrupted our social fabric, generating long-term impacts on the mental health and wellness of the University community.

But we are well equipped!

The uOttawa Mental Health and Wellness Strategic Framework (PDF, 961KB) provides guidance to strengthen our collective commitment to building a caring and compassionate University community, with a special focus on prevention. Its successful implementation is the responsibility of every person on campus. And there is still much work to be done.

We must commit to becoming a university where our teaching and the interactions between our leaders, employees and students demonstrate care, respect and compassion for others and for our environment.

We must foster an enabling environment that promotes respect, diversity, and resilience. Ongoing dialogue and open communication with the University community, subject matter experts, and external partners will ensure that our efforts are relevant and effective.

What is your personal takeaway as an advisor?

Poor mental health not only harms the well-being of our students and employees, but also impedes learning, disrupts attention and concentration, lowers self-efficacy, and can even lead to self-harm. It also affects relationships and interactions among students, colleagues, and leaders, thus impacting overall campus dynamics.

Prevention is key to addressing the increasing rates of poor mental health, and we must promote an environment where care, respect, and compassion are embedded in our actions and interactions. Throughout my tenure, I have witnessed the dedication of our community members to the mental health and wellness of everyone at uOttawa.

I believe that the majority of individuals on campus today care about the mental health and the wellness of our community.