Putting Queen’s at the Forefront of Student Mental Health

David Walker

It’s been five years since Dr. David Walker, Meds’71, concluded his work as Chair of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health. The report, which took one year to complete and produced 116 recommendations, was needed after a tragic academic year (2010-11) that saw six students lose their lives.

Dr. Walker has seen great progress since the report’s release and feels the university took the recommendations seriously. He cites the building of the Innovation and Wellness Centre, Embedded Counsellors who work with and understand the needs of students in specific faculties, and students feeling more comfortable talking about mental health, as positive signs that Queen’s is headed in the right direction.

Despite the success, there is still a lot more to do. “Mental health is not one of those issues you want to have considered done. You can’t let up,” he says.

Heading both the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health and the Queen’s 175th Anniversary Celebrations Committee are among the key reasons Dr. Walker was named this year’s recipient of the Padre Laverty Award – the highest honour bestowed by the Kingston Branch of the Queen’s University Alumni Association. Dr. Walker was honoured at the annual awards dinner on June 1 at Ban Righ Hall.

He is humbled and slightly embarrassed to receive the award. He shouldn’t be surprised – his list of accomplishments is impressive. Dr. Walker is the former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and current director of the School of Policy Studies. He has sat on numerous government committees (such as the Ontario Government’s Expert Panel on SARS and Infectious Disease Control) and public boards (all three Kingston hospitals, Public Health Ontario, and the Change Foundation).

William Leggett, who served as Queen’s Principal from 1994 to 2004, was one of the people who nominated Dr. Walker for the Padre Laverty Award. Dr. Walker’s outstanding leadership is one of the reasons he chose him to be Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in 1999. That respect has not wavered – Dr. Leggett has high praise for the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health.

“The commission placed Queen’s at the forefront of Canadian universities in the area of mental health, and the recommendations and policies have been widely emulated elsewhere,” says Dr. Leggett.

Dr. Walker and fellow commission members Ann Tierney, Law’89, MPA’04, Dr. Lynann Clapham, PhD’87, Dr. Jennifer Medves, and Roy Jaychan consulted with people both publicly and privately. They heard stories from students in distress, bereaved parents who lost their children to suicide, and faculty and staff who wanted more tools to help students.

“It was a very moving experience. I think the hard work was done by those who came to us – by the people who were brave enough to speak,” said Dr. Walker.

Helping organize Queen’s 175th celebrations was a much different task. The university is currently blowing out the candles on its 175th birthday cake. Some of the fun activities and events that celebrated the historic milestone include the Global Oil Thigh (a video featuring people around the world singing the school song), a gala dinner and honorary degree ceremony in Hong Kong, and the giant 175th sign beside the JDUC which was a popular backdrop for many student selfies.

On behalf of the Executive and Advisory Committees, Dr. Walker (along with Rico Garcia, Artsci’14, Mike Blair, Sc’17, and Celia Russell, Artsci’80) met with approximately 100 campus partners in the lead-up to the 175th celebrations and received enthusiastic responses and keen participation.

“We managed to evoke tremendous enthusiasm for the 175th from people all over the place. It brought people together and in the end that’s what pleased me the most,” said Dr. Walker.