Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Wellness Consultations: Accessible, Graduate-Specific Mental Health Support
Year Submitted 2019
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Tom Loebel AVP Graduate and Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University
Sarah Irwin-Gardner Manager, Graduate Student Wellness Services
Wes Moir Academic Affairs Officer
Mira Dineen Manager, Graduate Student Wellness Services
Name of Institution York University
Office Address 203 York Lanes
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
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Telephone: 4167362100 ext. 33379
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Jodi Tavares
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Executive Officer
Office Address 230 York Lanes
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
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Telephone: 4166600098
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Abstract

Graduate students face unique barriers when accessing mental health support, such as navigating dual roles as students and employees (Maldonado, Wiggers, & Arnold, 2013) and fear of reprisal or stigma if supervisors, mentors, or their own undergraduate students find out (Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, 2018). The Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) established the Wellness Consultation Service to provide fast-access, graduate-specific mental health support to students. The service aims to enhance the accessibility and range of wellness supports available to graduate students, without duplicating other campus services. Wellness consultations are confidential sessions with a mental health clinician that provide a starting point for students seeking to enhance their personal mental health or well-being. Graduate students can request a wellness consultation for support with: mental health issues, work-life balance, transitioning to graduate studies, imposter syndrome, wellness goal-setting, health strategies, and resource referrals. Consultations may include psychotherapy, psychoeducation, wellness counselling, practical learning and health strategies, systems navigation, and/or resource referrals, according to the student’s presenting concern. In alignment with the principles of Stepped Care (Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, n.d.), students are referred to resources based on the severity of their symptoms and their capacity to engage with self-directed resources or group supports (e.g. a workshop series, group psychotherapy); this approach has helped to reserve individual counselling appointments for students with more severe mental health concerns.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.
Transferability

This innovative service model, while unique across Ontario graduate schools, has the potential for easy replication at other institutions. Appointments are booked and managed through WordPress, a widely-used content management system. This system allows students to book an appointment from all available timeslots. Confirmation and reminder emails are generated automatically, reducing clerical burden. Predominantly, the positioning of a staff member within the Faculty provides students with an accessible support in the community they already call home, alleviating wayfinding challenges that larger institutions tend to encounter. To facilitate transferability, institutions should unite campus partners to build buy-in and a shared vision for the scope and aims of the service, as well as its integration and interfacing with existing campus services. The Wellness Consultation Service is the product of ongoing consultation between the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the York University Graduate Student Association (YUGSA), and Student Counselling & Development (SC&D). This collaboration enabled the Faculty to ensure the service model addressed graduate students’ specific needs and access barriers, while meeting the broader needs of the graduate community, including staff and faculty.

Quality Impact

The Wellness Consultation Service aims to provide graduate-specific mental health support and to improve the quality of students’ experience with help-seeking by mitigating common access barriers. For example, the service is available to all York graduate students, including those who are on an approved leave. Centralized counselling services typically involve an intake process and lengthy waitlist; while on the waitlist, students’ mental health symptoms may intensify. There is no intake process for the Wellness Consultation Service and most students access an appointment within 1-5 days. Student feedback is routinely asked at the end of sessions in relation to the therapeutic outcome of the session and to gauge if the time spent was useful for the student. The most common themes of responses from students relate to feeling that coming for a session was a good use of their time, expression of relief related to having a plan for coping and other immediate supports and feeling less alone in the emotions and circumstances they are experiencing (i.e., imposter syndrome). Examples of student testimonials include: “I feel like I know what to do next.”, “I’m glad York has this [service] for us.”; “Speaking to someone about this right away has really made a difference.”; “I feel like I have a plan now and a good idea about what could help me over the next few weeks.”; “I was reluctant to go to counselling but think maybe it’s what I need.” The Wellness Consultation Service has effectively engaged students who feel shame or hesitation about accessing mental health support, as a ‘wellness consultation’ is less stigmatizing.

Productivity Impact

The Wellness Consultation Service launched in December 2017. The service provided 214 appointments to 149 unique students between December 1st, 2017 and December 31st, 2018 with a 0.5 FTE clinician. In comparison, the central student counselling service at York University serves between 200 to 300 graduate students per year, with a staff team of over 25 clinicians and clinical interns. The usage data for the Wellness Consultation Service demonstrates significant uptake of a new service model, with a 0.5 FTE clinician. These service usage figures are comparable to other post-secondary counselling centres and reflect research findings that between 2 to 5 percent of post-secondary students will access formal mental health supports provided through their institution (Ranuic & Xenos, 2008). In line with the principles of Stepped Care, the Wellness Consultation Service manager refers students to resources based on the severity of their distress and their capacity to engage with self-directed resources or group supports (e.g. a workshop series, group psychotherapy). In addition to the Wellness Consultation Service, the GradConnect Wellness Services portfolio has expanded to offer a certificate program in learning and wellness strategies, a fund to support student-led wellness initiatives, and wellness workshops for graduate students in mindfulness, suicide prevention, and stress management. In 2019, new workshops will be offered in imposter syndrome, procrastination, and time management, in partnership with Learning Skills Services. Students who would otherwise have requested ongoing personal counselling at the central counselling centre have been effectively served through a single-session wellness consultation, followed by referral to self-directed resources or group supports (e.g. certificate program, workshops).

Innovation

Post-secondary institutions are seeking innovative, cost-effective mental health services, as it is unsustainable to hire more counsellors to meet increasing demand for service (EAB, 2018). Whereas central counselling centres primarily offer psychotherapy, the Wellness Consultation Service offers a dynamic range of supports which are tailored based on a students’ goals, capacity, and clinical presentation. Consultations may include psychotherapy, wellness coaching, psychoeducation, systems navigation, and/or resource referrals. A student in acute distress may receive single-session psychotherapy using a brief narrative and solution-focussed model, followed by referrals. A student experiencing wellness or transition challenges may be effectively served by wellness coaching, which “orients students towards their inherent capacities, strengths, and agency while promoting a growth mindset and optimizing student well-being” (Larcus, Gibbs, & Hackmann, 2016). The flexible, responsive nature of this service model aligns with the principles of Stepped Care, a framework for mental health service delivery which aims to see that “the most effective, yet least resource intensive treatment, is delivered first, only ‘stepping up’ to intensive / specialist services as required and depending on the level of patient distress or need” (Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, n.d.). Furthermore, this service model enhances the menu of wellness supports available, without duplicating campus services. The service is located in the Faculty of Graduate Studies to provide graduate students access to more discreet support, separate from the undergraduate students they may teach. The Wellness Consultation Service was recognized by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) through the 2018 Award for Excellence and Innovation in Enhancing the Graduate Student Experience.

The wellness consultation model is founded on a similar theoretical framework and knowledge base (positive psychology, resilience, health promotion) as the University of British Columbia’s Thrive initiative, recognized by CAUBO in 2015. However, the Wellness Consultation Service focuses on building individual capacity for positive mental health and increasing resilience through one-on-one appointments with a clinician, unlike Thrive. Furthermore, the wellness consultation model specifically aligns with the principles of Stepped Care and seeks to maximize efficiencies in limited campus resources by seeking to refer students to “the most effective, yet least resource intensive treatment” (Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, n.d.).

 

Supporting Documents References-Wellness-Consultation-Service-CAUBO-2019.docx