By Joshua Chang
For the first time since 2018, Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) Mental Health and Wellbeing Committee (MHWC) plans to update its strategies to support staff and students on campus.
In a statement to The Eyeopener, the university said the MHWC launched its new strategic planning process in January after reflecting on the previous strategy and gathering information about students’ current mental health.
The committee announced its plans to update their strategies on the official TMU website stating that they aim to create a flourishing university community that promotes mental health and wellbeing for all members to help them succeed.
As the development of the new strategy is underway, students think it’s much needed. Smiksha Singla, a fourth-year creative industries student and the president of the Society of the Creative School, noticed student progression at TMU had changed significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. She said even upper-year students are learning to navigate university-life for the first time.
“Even our seniors are kind of like freshmen,” Singla said.
“How can one adapt so fast? There are so many people and campus is bustling again but I’m not as comfortable as I was in 2019,” she said regarding what she’s seen among TMU students who are back on campus this year.
In their announcement, MHWC discussed the effects the pandemic had on students’ mental health and how it “both exposed and exacerbated a mental health crisis that was well underway.”
“I feel like I’m more mentally drained”
Statistics Canada reported that in the spring of 2021, one in four Canadians were experiencing a mental illness—a critical difference from one in five Canadians in the fall of 2020.
Some students agree that the transition from pandemic-life back to in-person learning has had a severe impact on their mental health.
Jean Lee, a second-year graphic communications management student says the transition out of the pandemic has been extremely difficult for her.
“I feel like I’m more mentally drained,” Lee says. “This is the first time I have classes that are all in-person, with in-person exams and midterms, so I feel like I was more on top of my game during COVID.”
Lee, who had also noticed a particular decline in the mental health of her peers, said counseling sessions would be beneficial for students’ mental health and wellbeing on campus.
“I’ve talked to a lot of friends and they think it’s been very hard to transition,” she says. “Having a weekly session or even monthly sessions for certain things and certain events have been very helpful to a lot of them.”
The MHWC’s 2018 Terms of Reference, which outlines the committee’s purpose and vision back when it started, states that TMU students who were surveyed regarding their mental health acknowledged that “mental health and wellbeing issues have impacted their academic outcomes.”
In the same statement to The Eye, the university said “We are currently in the process of gathering student input and recommendations that will be considered in the next iteration of the strategy, which we aim to have completed in the summer.”
The MHWC representative highlighted their widespread activity across campus to deliver initiatives like peer support programs, community partnerships and the development of spaces on campus.
Alongside a refreshed strategy, the university has begun working to create a new student wellbeing centre on Gould Street, set to open in 2025. In late 2022, a referendum was approved at TMU which increased the student wellbeing levy fee for all full-time undergraduate and graduate students from $3.93 to $38.83 per term, to be used towards the new centre.
“I’d like to see more mingling with students and asking them what they really want instead of putting out surveys or having town hall meetings, which no student really attends,” Singla said. “Speaking more to student societies and having more in-person events where people can come in and talk about their problems would be helpful.”
TMU community members can submit all their ideas about the new strategy to the Virtual Mental Health Suggestion Box under the Mental Health and Wellbeing section of TMU’s website until March 28, 2023.