FCAD to pilot mental health programs

(Nikolas Theodorakidis/Ryersonian Staff)

(Nikolas Theodorakidis/Ryersonian Staff)

Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) will test out a series of pilot mental health programs next year created to help struggling students navigate campus resources.

John Austin, the executive director of student affairs, said that after a year-long test run, these programs could be implemented throughout the school as soon as the 2017-18 school year.

“We want to create a school environment where support for students’ health is everyone’s job,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean that everybody does counselling, but it means that we find new ways to teach faculty, student groups and students how to better support their students and peers.”

The project, championed by FCAD dean Charles Falzon, is managed by three working groups, which each consist of three to four FCAD faculty members, staff and students.

Each group is working on a different mental health program: training faculty to help struggling students, training students to help their peers and making campus resources more easily accessible.

Programs that are successful will eventually spread to other faculties.

“We’re just going to kind of throw things on the wall and see what sticks,” Austin said.

But while these pilot programs are set to start in the new school year, they are still in the early stages of planning. Austin does not yet know exactly what the programs will look like, how much they will cost or where the money will come from.

Still, he and Falzon are hopeful that these programs will make a difference for FCAD students, who are one of the highest user groups for counselling services at Ryerson.

“FCAD attracts students who are especially highly driven and ambitious,” Falzon said in an email. “The combination of pressures relating to curriculum work and co-curricular work and career development … can lead to anxiety and a feeling of being alone. Well, at FCAD, you’re not alone and we will reassure each other that things will work out just fine.”

The first FCAD working group is creating a formal training program to offer faculty members resources and knowledge of what to do when they know one of their students is struggling with mental health issues.

“Right now, it’s really common that if a student shows up at a faculty member’s office visibly upset, the (faculty member) panics. It makes them scared,” Austin said.

“Having a student crying in your office should not make you scared. It can make you uncomfortable, of course, but we want to teach faculty and staff and prepare them to manage that discomfort.”

Part of this program will include “Mental Health 101,” a workshop created by members of the Ryerson Mental Health Committee. Other training opportunities could include panels, speakers, online resources and even book clubs, Austin said.

“What we want to build here is an official, formal curriculum,” Austin said. “We can’t require people to go to it … but this is one of those things that everybody’s really interested in.”

The second working group includes members from the Ryerson Communication and Design Society, as well as FCAD student unions and student leaders.

It will teach students how to support their peers who are struggling with mental health concerns.

“There has to be a way where we can teach all FCAD students to be ready to talk to a student when they see that they are upset or out of character. To give them confidence to say, ‘Hey, you seem a little down today, is there anything I can do?’”

The third working group will create a service that can help students navigate different mental health resources on campus.

“We’re recognizing the demand on those services is far outpacing our resources,” Austin said.

“So we’re looking for anything that might help reduce students’ dependence on defaulting to the counselling centre.”

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