Expanding programs and services to promote student wellbeing

Expanding programs and services to promote student wellbeing

Student Wellness Services adapts to increase access and support during the pandemic.

By Communications Staff

September 22, 2021


As most students return to campus and in-class learning this fall, Student Wellness Services (SWS) is continuing to expand the ways it delivers its supports and programming in response to COVID-19-related measures and restrictions.

In Spring 2020, Student Wellness Services quickly moved to a hybrid service model. Video and phone appointments were introduced, along with some in-person consultations, with physicians, counsellors, accessibility advisors, nurses, and health promotion experts, as well as psychiatrists and occupational therapists by referral. This model is here to stay. Students can book these appointments by phone and in person at the Côté Sharp Student Wellness Centre in Mitchell Hall. A new online appointment booking system is being implemented this fall.

Online wellness group sessions continue, and some counsellors will also offer outdoor in-person “walk and talk” therapy. Counsellors will also continue to use a digital evidence-based therapy platform implemented at the start of the pandemic that includes assessment tools, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and exercises students can complete on their own time or in between appointments. Online Psychotherapy Tool (OPTT) was co-developed by Dr. Nazanin Alavi, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, and Dr. Mohsen Omrani, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Psychiatry. It is a text-based alternative to traditional talk therapy and can suit students with roommates or a living situation where they don’t have total privacy.

“We certainly recognize the mental health impacts of the pandemic on everyone, including the student-aged population,” says SWS Executive Director Cynthia Gibney. “Over the past year and a bit, we have been enhancing student access to service wherever they are, and in whatever format is most appropriate for their health concern, circumstances, and preference. This increased flexibility will continue as we move forward.”

Crisis support remains available 24/7 through Empower Me, a free mental health service that is equity, diversity, and inclusivity-sensitive and available from many countries and in many languages. Students can also access 24/7 service through Good2Talk and local community-based services.

Peer wellness support

This fall, the Health Promotion team has launched a Peer Wellness Navigator program. Students can drop into the Gregory David and Neil Rossy Health Promotion Hub in Mitchell Hall, Monday-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for information from peers about supports and resources at SWS, and across Student Affairs and campus. These trained student health educators also run events and the BeWell social media channels, highlighting wellness activities, programs, and services.

“I am very excited to be involved in the new Peer Wellness Navigator program,” says program co-lead Fiona Costello, a fourth-year life sciences student. “Queen’s has a number of amazing health and wellness resources to offer, and this role provides an easy and effective way for students to learn what resources are available to them and how they can access them.”

“We are offering our peers the chance to quickly and easily find resources that can help them live healthier during the school year,” says co-lead Batu Cakmakci, a fourth-year life sciences student. “I am looking forward to working with everyone on the team to ensure that everyone has a safe and healthy year.”

The free Fresh Food Box program is also returning this fall to help address food insecurity.

New education sessions and recruiting health professionals

Continuing online mental health and wellbeing events and education sessions for students, faculty and staff have been updated for the pandemic context. In response to demand from faculty members and students, one new offering this fall is "Mental Health Essentials for Professors, Instructors and TAs." Other training topics include "Identifying and Responding to someone in distress while physical distancing," "Creating a Customized Self-Care Plan," and "Online Suicide Alertness."

SWS is currently recruiting family physicians and additional positions, including a second on-campus registered dietician, another occupational therapist, another counsellor, and a new BIPoC Wellness Advisor who will implement and evaluate wellbeing programming, workshops, and resources tailored to the needs of BIPoC and intersecting student identities.

Student feedback on services

SWS invites students to provide their input at any time. A student advisory board was established last year that provides feedback and ideas for service improvements; all service users are sent a post-appointment survey; and a feedback form is also posted to the SWS website.

COVID-19 health and safety

SWS is also offering COVID-19 vaccine appointments and consultations with physicians for any student with questions or concerns about vaccination.

“We care deeply about our students; there are many on- and off-campus supports and resources that can truly make a difference, and we want to encourage and support students as they build skills and confidence to get through these particularly intense and uncertain times,” says Gibney.

All of the latest information and links related to COVID-19 for faculty, students and staff can be found on the university’s Safe Return website.