Durham does ‘re-jigging’ of its mental health services

Darlene Heslop, director of the Campus Health Centre. Photo credit: Melanie Lennon

The concern around post-secondary students and their mental health is high after the University of Toronto’s (U of T) fourth reported suicide since June of last year.

In recent media reports, many U of T students voiced their concerns and called out the school for its lack of mental health services on campus.

According to Darlene Heslop, director of the Campus Health Centre at Durham College (DC) and Ontario Tech University, the schools are doing everything they can to ensure students have access to the proper resources.

Most recently, Heslop said after an evaluation of DC’s mental health services, she and her department decided the school could benefit from a bit of “re-jigging” in the area.

During the summer, Heslop and her team created DC’s new Well-being Centre, located on the second floor of the Student Centre. It’s described as a safe space to go and speak with wellness coaches and mental health nurses who can provide students with immediate support.

Heslop said the centre operates through walk-in appointments only. This way, they’re able to meet students face-to-face and efficiently assess their needs.

“The appointment with the practitioner will take about 15 to 30 minutes. By the end of that appointment, they should know a plan,” she said. “We’ve seen that it’s a good process.”

Heslop said they’ve already seen more than 160 students since the Well-being Centre opened last month.

“We really want the message to students to be – if you’re struggling, come and see us and we can help direct you in the right way.”

DC’s Vice-President of Student Affairs, Meri Kim Oliver, said in the six years she’s worked at the college there have been no reported student suicides.

She then explained the campus has plenty of mental health services for students to use. In addition to the Well-being Centre, these include Outreach Services, counselling at the Access and Support Centre and the mental health nurses and physicians at the Campus Health Centre.

Students the Chronicle spoke with are aware of the services offered at DC. A student in the foundations in art and design program is currently using the school’s mental health resources. He said he met with a nurse at the Well-being Centre for the first time last week.

“It was pretty positive. It’s nice to know that there’s a place you can go whenever you are feeling overwhelmed,” said the 20-year-old. “Durham College has been pretty solid when it comes to mental health.”

A 23-year-old student in the broadcasting program hasn’t used the services but is aware they’re available. He said he’d like to know even more about the area.

“That’s the thing about mental health, it’s a very insidious killer,” he said. “If somebody were to come to me in a time of crisis, it’d be difficult for me to tell you what [I’d do].”

Heslop said listening is the best thing to do when a friend or loved one is in need of help. She also said it’s important to know what resources are available. Hotlines such as I.M. Well and Good2Talk are there for students to use after-hours. But when a situation becomes dire, Heslop said 9-1-1 is always going to help.

“There’s all kinds of stressors that our post-secondary students are facing and…that’s why we have the resources we do,” she said. “[We’re] breaking down that stigma of asking for help because we know we want our students to graduate and become more resilient people.”