Q+A: Director of Student Services
By JILLIAN EMERSON
Rick Anderson is Niagara College’s Director of Student Services. Niagara News asked Anderson about some of the services the school offers to students dealing with mental health issues.
NN: Is there a mental health crisis on our campus?
RA: I don’t know if I would label it a crisis. The mental illness rates that we see on the campus are sort of what you would see in the general population, one in five people is the number of people who generally experience mental health issues and that’s what we experience here at the college. I think one of the challenging things is 75 per cent of them are going to have their first onset between 18 and 24. A lot of our students fall within that age range so it may be something new that’s happening with someone. Thankfully we are seeing some of the stigma around mental health being reduced and so hopefully that creates awareness for people to support each other in coming forward and reduce people being hesitant to come forward.
NN: What is the school doing to help students?
RA: We are taking a very holistic approach. One of the most obvious things is offering services to students to support them. We have on-campus counselling services. We have connections with community resources, so if we need to connect a student with resources in the community we can do that as well. But it goes much broader than that. We’re doing staff training around mental health because we want staff to be prepared that if a student does come forward and talk to them, that there equipped to know how to do an initial response and how to refer. We try and create awareness with the students so they know what services are available. At all the program information sessions there is information on that. We have service fairs throughout the year. The other thing is that we want to create a community of care and create communication avenues. We have a behavioural intervention team at the campus. Next semester we will be launching a way for staff and students, if they are concerned about someone, to submit that information to us so we can reach out to that person.
NN: What is the average wait time for a student to see a councillor, we heard it’s about four to six weeks?
RA: It does vary throughout the year. The average might be two weeks. It could be more than that in busy times, but we also have drop-in sessions every day. So if someone comes in and they are in crisis we will see them on the spot. Although there is a longer wait time on average for students, that’s not [the case] for people who are in crisis. We’ve also redesigned services at the Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake campuses, including triage rooms and quiet spaces.
NN: What would you say to students who are currently suffering from mental health issues?
RA: We are here to support you. We have a great counselling staff. So if someone needs help they should reach out to us. And I would say to students generally that the most influential people are their peers. So if they see that their friends are suffering they should encourage them to come to our health and wellness services and get support.
NN: Is there anything you would like to add?
RA: It takes a whole community to support and respond to people in crisis. I think what you are doing with this story is important and helps create awareness. I’m really happy you are doing that.