April 19, 2021

Campus Mental Health Strategy marks 5 years of progress

Resilience and reflection themes at annual progress event featuring international expert Michael Ungar
campus mental health strategy progress event brand image

For the past five years, UCalgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) has worked to create a more caring campus community.

An online progress update event, Nurturing Resiliency, marked the anniversary in March. The session featured international resilience expert Dr. Michael Ungar, PhD, leading a panel with several UCalgary community members who spoke on personal resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What makes a campus caring?

For strategy director Dr. Andrew Szeto, PhD, part of what makes a caring campus is recognizing, destigmatizing and providing mental health supports and, as a community, learning to be more compassionate, open-minded and aware. The CMHS works toward this goal with the help of community partners, advocates, students, staff, faculty and postdoctoral scholars.

The prevalence of mental illness in Canada, along with results from the 2013 National College Health Assessment and data from the Staff Wellness division of UCalgary Human Resources and Homewood Health, galvanized university leadership in making mental health and well-being a campus-wide priority. Stakeholders across campus formed a Mental Health Task Force that, within an evidence-based framework, developed 28 action-oriented recommendations under six strategic focus areas.

University of Calgary Framework for Mental Health

University of Calgary Framework for Mental Health

Since the launch of CMHS in December 2015, the initiatives, recommendations and direction of the CMHS continue to be reviewed, with new priorities set on an annual basis. Last month’s event highlighted some of these activities over the years.  

Five years of building individual and community resilience

Increases in outreach and mental health skills training, as well as service and support adaptations to better serve UCalgary community members, were key progress indicators. Work done to transform suicide awareness and prevention, as well as more than $100,000 in grants to support UCalgary projects supporting mental health, have also been realized during the strategy’s first five years. More than 2,000 faculty and staff have been trained in mental health awareness and stigma-reduction, and more than 8,000 students per year receive outreach and training.

More information on the work the CMHS has undertaken, including its ongoing wellness series, UFlourish, and its undergraduate certificate program in Mental Well-being and Resilience, is available here.

International resilience expert shares research and knowledge

After the updates on the CMHS, guest presenter Ungar spoke about his research and mental health resiliency findings related to COVID-19 — particularly the science of resilience, and how an accumulation of stress can lead to further imbalance when faced with lack of resources.

“We now think about multi-systemic resilience, all of the layers of our lives coming together to make us feel whole,” Ungar said. “It’s our capacity to navigate our way to the psychological, social, cultural and physical resources, but it has to be more than that. It has to be our ability to ask for it and get what we need.”

Panellists included Dr. Melissa Boyce, PhD, graduate student Alex Choy, and undergraduate student Fiza Rajput, who described multi-level challenges during the pandemic, such as isolation and lack of resources. They also spoke to several protective factors that helped to build their resilience, such as finding new opportunities for supportive relationships and ways to nurture their identities.

“At first I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone, like I had no out,” explained Rajput about being stuck at home during the pandemic. “But I found that spending my time involving myself in creating my student club, Mental Health for South Asia, I could create a platform to support new relationships and connect other South Asians in similar situations. Involving myself allowed me to create my own powerful identity and helped me to meet other people.”

To hear more of their stories, as well as Ungar’s notes on resiliency and the CMHS strategy update, watch the complete webinar below.

UCalgary mental health resources

As we navigate an evolving pandemic, we are still here to support you, on or off campus. Mental health services and supports are available for students, faculty and staff. Find support here.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. Learn more about the strategy here.