Many factors contribute to student mental health problems from academic workload and finance, to lifestyle and uncertainties about a future after graduation. It’s not enough to address the individual symptoms. We need to think about things differently. The GSS advocates for a campus wide effort to give students the tools to manage their feelings and an environment to succeed.
Areas of Focus
Student Work-Life Balance
The learning environment and support from the faculty/department/colleagues directly impacts students’ mental health. Thus, by re-shaping and altering the learning environment and campus experience, the university can play a significant role in influencing the student experience towards learning, achieving as well as performing successfully after graduation.
There are many ways in which the university can help pave a stronger experience and well-being environment for the students. Some of the key elements that GSS supports and aims to create include:
- Supporting and strengthening the student-supervisor relationship
- Providing an environment of understanding and comfort for students from all backgrounds/nationalities
- Helping students deal with academic and financial stress, providing healthy outlets for student well-being
- Increasing student engagement and communication to help them support each other as a group
Campus-Wide Mental Health Strategy
The results of the most recent GSS Graduate Student Survey illustrate the complex mental health problems students face:
25% of students feel that they are physically unable to perform in classes, 33% of students indicated concerns regarding mental health, with respondents attributing this added stress to multiple factors including: academic workload (55%), preparation for life after graduation (50%), finances (40%). 60% of the respondents claim that they face unhealthy levels of stress, while a majority believe that this negatively effects their academic performance.
A Mental Health and Well-being Policy for all
Developing clear policies and procedures that allow students to access services and support without fear of stigma and that approach mental health seriously and sensitively.
Early Identification and Response
Multilevel response structure needs to be adapted by universities to address all types of mental health challenges, from foundational to intensive.
Providing Direct Service and Support
Providing a range of mental health services that are accessible and inclusive, with more counsellors per student and inclusion of external community resources to meet full spectrum of health needs.
Aligning institutional policies and procedures to support mental health services
Teaching and learning methods that foster a sense of community and reduce stress, this includes support for graduate students in their interactions with their supervisors.
Creating, a healthy, friendly campus environment
Fostering a healthy campus community and encouraging a sense of belonging. Peer support and mentorship programs which give an opting out or a deferral option to students suffering from problems.
An inclusive and supportive communication strategy
Ensures students are informed of all services/programs offered at the campus. Creating an easy to follow mental-health road-map that would facilitate students navigation through the available services on-campus.
The GSS advocates for a campus wide mental health strategy that aims to integrate mental wellness in all aspects of campus life, from institutional policies to building design.
Creating Healthy Campuses
In 2019, the GSS published a report on ‘Creating Healthy Campuses,’ which focused on the mental health issues faced by graduate students at the UBC campus. The report highlighted the need for the university to establish a campus wide mental health strategy to support all aspects of student life. The data from student surveys of GSS, AMS, as well as other Canadian universities, exhibits the dire need to create policies that support students’ mental health and wellbeing as a priority. As per the GSS survey, 1 in 3 graduate student respondents indicate concerns regarding mental illness, while 50% of the students feel that stress negatively impacts their academic performance.
“Many factors contribute to student mental health problems from academic workload and finance, to lifestyle and uncertainties about a future after graduation. It’s not enough to address the individual symptoms. We need to think about things differently. We need a campus wide effort to give students the tools to manage their feelings and an environment to succeed. Today’s students are tomorrow’s engineers, doctors, business leaders and creatives, enabling them to feel confident in their mental wellness has great benefits for the Province as well as for individuals.”
—VP Students, UBC GSS
Graduate Wellness Day
The GSS for the first time plans to organize a Grad Well-being Day, which would focus on a variety of arts and crafts workshops, yoga and mindfulness classes, and information from partners like UBC Wellness Peers, and Body Energy Club. The main idea behind the wellness day is to promote mental health amongst students, introduce them to the resources available on-campus as well as bring graduate students together to form a community to show support to each other through difficult and stressful times. The event also aims to create awareness regarding addiction and recovery on campus. The first event was planned for March 25, 2020, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event has been postponed and will be scheduled in Fall 2020.
Lunch and Learn sessions in collaboration with other campus partners
Mental wellness has been a key topic for our free Lunch and Learn series of events organized for graduate students, which have been a great success amongst the students. Over the year, the sessions emphasized on mental health literacy in a Thrive month collaboration with UBC Health Promotion and Education; and addressed sleep hygiene with the research team from the Smartphone and Sleep Study. The Lunch and Learn sessions focus on a diverse range of topics from planning healthy meals on a budget, to fighting imposter syndrome, addressing power dynamics in supervisory relationships, experiences of minorities on campus, and many more. The idea of theses sessions is to create awareness amongst graduate students and bring in experts from the filed, to help guide them for greater work-life balance.
The GSS has partnered with SEEDS Plant Forward Food Initiative on a pilot project that improves food and nutrition knowledge, around plant-forward food for graduate students. The team are working on develop resources to help grad students eat plant based on a budget. Initial ideas were presented at our March 2020 Lunch and Learn.
Launched in 2018, the campaign is recognized nationally with its hashtag #StudentsLetsAct. During the campaign, post-secondary students across Canada write letters to the Members of Parliament in Ottawa, informing them of their issues and requesting for greater attention from the government. The annual campaign runs from January 30th to February 1st, with an aim to convert mental health conversations into action, helping change the Canadian post-secondary campuses. 21 other post-secondary institutes across Canada participate in this event to help raise awareness regarding mental health.
BC Parliament Advocacy Campaigns
Through advocacy campaigns run with partner student organizations such as ABCS, GSS has raised the issue of mental health and wellbeing of graduate students as one of the most important asks at the BC Parliament. In the 2019 Advocacy Campaign at the BC Parliament, the VP External of GSS in conversations with the BC Premier and the Minister of Education emphasized over the need of the province to create a strong strategy regarding mental health and well-being for students and ensure strict implementation by universities.
COVID-19 Pandemic Response
The GSS stands strong with graduate students’ hardships through the difficult time of the COVID19 pandemic, as they struggle through changed work dynamics. The society is supporting the students through a number of initiatives such as advocating at the university to increase funding support (for both domestic and international students), providing mental-health resources, expansion of the Graduate Student Financial Aid (GSFA), advocating for reduced Summer 2020 tuition fees and providing peer support service.
“The GSS has heard the diverse difficulties that graduate students are experiencing during this time and are working to address them, in particular, financial security and continued enrolment are top priorities.”