In #SAcdn

by Carrie Chassels, Vice-Provost, Student Affairs, University of Guelph

Mental health and wellbeing on campus are a huge consideration for Student Affairs Professionals at this time. Given the current climate of mental health crisis, many of us might feel like we wish there was more we could do, or that we knew how we might adjust our practices to best support students. If you’re an SA pro you’ve probably heard of the Okanagan Charter. Whether or not your institution has officially adopted the Charter to infuse health promotion in all aspects of campus culture, your voice is welcome to help articulate the standard Canadian post-secondary aspires to. In this timely call to action, SA-Exchange Editorial Board member Carrie Chassels outlines what you can do to participate (by November 6th) below.

For decades, Student Affairs professionals have been leading initiatives to promote student wellness. In recent years, some universities and colleges have formalized their commitment to campus-wide health promotion by becoming signatories of the Okanagan Charter (2015). Reviving the aspirations articulated in the Ottawa Charter (1986), the Okanagan Charter recognizes the interconnectedness of student, staff, and faculty wellbeing and calls on universities and colleges to: 

  • Embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates.
  • Lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.

Efforts to promote the wellbeing of staff and faculty were given a significant boost in 2013 when the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) developed the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard (PHSW Standard). Human Resources departments in colleges and universities across Canada embraced the PHSW Standard as a framework for strategic planning, programming, and assessment with an aim to improving the psychological wellbeing of faculty and staff.  

A similar standards-based framework that has the potential to drive strategic planning, programming, and assessment with an aim to improving student mental health is currently being developed by MHCC in partnership with CSA Group (standards organization) and in consultation with CICAN, Universities Canada, and CACUSS through participation on the Executive Advisory Committee and the Technical Committee. 

Although input from a wide range of stakeholders is important, I strongly believe that the utility of the tentatively titled Standard on Psychological Health and Safety for Post-Secondary Students (PSS Standard) will ultimately rely on the input of student affairs professionals who have deep insight into the needs of students and will play a significant role in taking up the PSS Standard to inform their work.

With the growing commitment to promoting the wellbeing of all members of our post-secondary communities, the opportunity to find points of intersection between the PHSW and PSS standards has the potential to transform our campuses, but only if the PSS Standard’s content and presentation are inspiring, robust, accessible, and relevant to our diverse student populations.

For more than 30 years, post-secondary leaders and community health experts have been talking about the potential for universities and colleges to be drivers and models of organizational health-promotion. With the impact of the PHSW Standard and the anticipation of the PSS Standard, we may be on the forefront of realizing the bold vision articulated in the original Ottawa Charter and the more recent Okanagan Charter.

To optimize the potentially transformative impact of the PSS Standard, I urge my fellow student affairs colleagues to lean into the review process by providing critical feedback that will enable the PSS Standard to serve as the driver for change that we and our students have been seeking.  

You can access the English and French versions of the review copy of the PSS Standard at https://publicreview.csa.ca, create or log in to your account and search “Z2003” to find the draft of the PSS Standard.

Questions can be emailed to the MHCC team at: studentstandard@mentalhealthcommission.ca.

Click here to review and provide your feedback about the draft PSS Standard no later than November 6, 2019.

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