Celebrating campus Champions for Mental Health
More than 60 Queen’s instructors, teaching assistants, and staff members are being recognized as 2023 Champions for Mental Health for creating supportive learning and campus environments. These champions have been nominated by students in every faculty and school, for showing compassion, encouraging a sense of belonging, inspiring health-promoting behaviours, and promoting student mental wellbeing.
The Champions for Mental Health program is a student-led initiative that was developed in 2021 by the Student Mental Health Collective in response to both student feedback and research calling for increased mental health promotion in academics and campus environments.
“We are thrilled to offer our ongoing support to this innovative program that highlights the fantastic work that staff and instructors are doing to support student wellness,” says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “We all know that poor mental health can impact student academic performance and overall wellbeing. We also know, from our analysis of 2022 student health data, that more students are experiencing increased mental health challenges, and many are still struggling as we emerge from the pandemic. Students bring their whole selves to university and this program to promote positive student mental health highlights the critical, yet accessible, day-to-day role that all of us can play to support student wellbeing.”
During the recent academic year, health sciences students and members of the Student Mental Health Collective, Cathleen O’Brien and Shafagh Razaghzadeh-Shabestari worked with staff from Student Affairs to learn more about the methods and practices past champions used to support student mental health. O’Brien and Razaghzadeh-Shabestari learned that some of the most effective ways for educators to support student mental health are available to all instructors and staff; previous champions highlighted the effectiveness of demonstrating flexibility through course design, being compassionate regarding events in a student’s life, and regularly checking in with students about program course loads and overall student wellbeing.
O’Brien is continuing to work on the Champions for Mental Health program over the summer. She has collected and reviewed all student testimonials and has gathered further information from each champion.
“Reading the more than sixty nominations from students and learning about the commitments instructors and staff have made to supporting students, both in classroom environments and across campus, has been truly inspiring," says O'Brien. "I am looking forward to building tools and other materials that effectively convey all these powerful voices, to benefit future students."
Each champion is profiled on the university’s Campus Wellbeing website. The profiles include words from each student nominator about the positive impact the champion has had on their mental health and wellbeing, as well as thoughts from the champion themselves about how they approach supporting students.
Ten faculty and staff members who were nominated this year and in previous rounds of the program, are being honoured as recurring, ‘Superstar’ Champions for Mental Health. Superstar Champion sociology teaching assistant Megan Ingram told the Student Mental Health Collective that they “recognize students as people with expansive lives, of which their academic work is just one part. This approach shifts the entire way that I enter the classroom, seeing it as just one stopping point on their learning journey.” Ingram further says that this approach allows them to “resist the pressure to see academics as the be all end all, and instead to move towards supporting my students in broader ways. In my classes, accommodations, compassion, and understanding are not scarce resources that students must prove themselves to get but are freely given and ultimately crucial to their learning.”
The Champions for Mental Health project supports the Queen's Campus Wellbeing Framework. The framework's goal is to encourage and support an inclusive culture of wellbeing that inspires and enables all who live, learn, and work at Queen's to thrive.