In 2019, the Presidential and Provostial Task Force’s final report on student mental health made recommendations to improve access to mental health services on and off campus. It also addressed growing concerns about student mental health across the university.
Now, nearly three years later, The Varsity is here to break down the changes the university has made to its mental health care policy in response.
The Task Force
The Presidential Task Force aimed to implement a “student-centric approach to timelier and harmonized mental health services” and make resources more accessible for students. The team, which was composed of 13 faculty members, staff, and students, focused on four areas for improvement: mental health service delivery, tri-campus coordination of student supports, expanding community partnerships, and improving mental health spaces.
Currently, the vice-president and provost’s website tracks the status of each of the Task Force’s recommended action items. Since the release of the final report, the administration has achieved most of the task force’s recommendations, but some remain in progress or are considered ongoing projects.
Mental health service delivery
All 21 of the Task Force’s recommendations emphasize the need to change the delivery of mental health services. As a result, the administration upgraded the My Student Support Program (My SSP), a program that offers 24-hour access to multilingual counselling via phone or text; implemented same-day mental health counselling services at UTSG; and launched a central website for all mental health resources available to students.
Currently, the university is working on adopting a single online booking system and providing additional support to expand student unions’ health insurance plans and better communicate available benefits with their members.
Last year, the Universty of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) changed its insurance provider from Dejardins to Green Shield. The current UTSU insurance plan covers up to $100 a visit for 15 visits with a mental health care practitioner per policy year. University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union students’ plan covers up to $125 per visit with a psychologist or counselor. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union offers a maximum of $2,000 per benefit year to meet with a psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychotherapist. They also offer up to $300 a year for students to participate in MindBeacon, a virtual therapy program.
Coordination of student mental health supports
The Task Force listed ways in which the university could improve the coordination of student supports across the three campuses. So far, U of T has standardized its application process for accessibility services so that students can use one letter across every campus and division. The university has also appointed a clinical director to oversee its tri-campus student mental health system.
Expanding community partnerships
To increase partnerships with community-based organizations, the university has appointed a Mental Health Services Redesign Team to partner with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The Redesign Team has worked with CAMH to establish a research-centered initiative to provide solutions for university mental health.
Ongoing items include collaborating with CAMH to create professional development opportunities for U of T staff and faculty members, as well as working with partners in the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network to achieve the Task Force’s goals.
Improving mental health spaces
The final Task Force mandate included an evaluation of the physical spaces where U of T provides mental health services. The university is still in the process of implementing renovations to the Koffler building’s Health & Wellness Centre and reviewing facilities available at UTSC, UTM, and UTSG.
Concerns from the U of T community
In an email to The Varsity, second-year student Claire Gordon shared her experiences with trying to access U of T’s mental health services: “It’s really difficult to find the information needed to access care, and it’s really difficult to get on it with enough time to be able to get an opening.”
Gordon explained that she has attempted to access a number of university-affiliated resources over two years, without much success. She observed that many services were difficult to access or filled up quickly; for instance, there were no available bookings for mental health appointments when she was seeking them.
She went on to write that when U of T advertises its mental health services, it primarily focuses on “helplines, peer supports, and online resources.” Although these services may help some students, others seek more professional, long-term resources, like a therapist.
Gordon highlighted the importance of creating confidential areas for students to attend appointments. “It would be awesome to have soundproof, private rooms where we can attend online therapy sessions or call trained professionals,” she wrote.
Gordon emphasized the importance of a person’s relationship with their therapist. She explained, for example, that some of her men friends would prefer therapists who are also men. When there is a general lack of men therapists, research suggests that men may be less satisfied with therapy. To increase accessibility, Gordon wrote, “The StudentCare network needs to include more male therapists, more queer therapists, and more therapists of color.”
According to Gordon, “Offering other academic support would help students navigate academic life better.” She imagines this change would make it easier for students to access therapy and improve the mental health culture at U of T in general.
Resources and next steps
According to a spokesperson for the University of Toronto, 80 per cent of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented, including same or next-day in-person and virtual counselling appointments at campus health and wellness centres. The university also has embedded counsellors across faculties and outreach locations.
The spokesperson highlighted the wide range of resources and supports available to students, “including education, group-based sessions, skill-building and peer support.” Access to 24/7 counselling, in over 35 languages, is also provided on the My SSP website.
For further information on available mental health supports, the Student Mental Health Resource provides students with a one-stop webpage, outlining all resources.
In line with recommendations provided by the Review Committee on the Role of Campus Safety, the University is working to improve Campus Safety’s approach to students in mental health crises. According to the spokesperson, “This includes more deeply integrating equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism competencies and mental health knowledge throughout education programs for Campus Safety staff.”
Students seeking accommodations can contact Accessibility Services via phone or email. To learn more about U of T’s Accessibility Services, students can participate in daily in-person and virtual sessions with peer advisors.