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Changing ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality

by Mia Anhoury November 20, 2018
Changing ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality

Committee releases review with recommendations to improve health and wellbeing

Concordia’s Student Health and Wellbeing Review Committee released its assessment on Nov. 8. The committee’s action plan includes the development of a comprehensive mental health services plan and a mid-semester break in the fall. The review was requested by President Alan Shepard to ensure the university is supporting these practices on campus.

According to Lisa Ostiguy, the special advisor to the provost on campus life, Concordia is looking into the logistics of a fall break, although it will not be implemented in the upcoming academic year.

The assessment was largely based on interviews with 30 “subject matter experts,” which included specialists from the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities, the Department of Creative Art Therapies and Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services. The committee also spoke with an elder from the Aboriginal Student Resource Centre, the Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre, and the International Student Office, among others.

The primary takeaway from these interviews was the need to promote health and wellbeing over the “survival of the fittest” mentality often present in classrooms. According to Ostiguy, the university can implement this change with simple steps, such as requiring that students be made aware of on-campus and off-campus services during their first class of the semester.

The focus is on changing the classroom environment and introducing wellness-based practices. “It can be a number of things,” Ostiguy said. “It could involve health breaks and things like that infused in what we do.”

The ability to foster conversations about health and wellbeing in the classroom depends on “the design of the course material,” Ostiguy said. “We heard a lot in the review about students becoming anxious around midterms.” Giving students  the opportunity to talk about the resources around the campus is key, she said.

Next year, the committee intends to expand their review to include an analysis of health and wellness practices in other universities, in the form of partnerships with the city, peer-to-peer offerings and group sessions. Although improving wait times for appointments with counsellors is one way to go about it, Ostiguy said “there are a lot of ways that we could address supporting students.”

In 2013, Concordia was among the 32 Canadian post-secondary institutions surveyed in the National College Health Assessment. According to the survey’s results quoted in the review, 33 per cent of Concordia students reported that stress had the largest impact on their academic performance in the last year. Additionally, 41.6 per cent of students felt their level of stress was above average.

Additionally, the committee’s review recommended centralizing all health and wellness information to ensure the university community is aware of all the available resources.

“If [students] are not in a program that addresses health directly, like exercise science, they may not have access in their whole degree to a course on health-related things, such as nutrition or stress,” Ostiguy said.

The review recommended the creation of non-credit courses for anyone in the university to improve their knowledge of health.

“We do need to look at mental health strategies,” Ostiguy said. “Even though we didn’t look at individual services as part of this review, there is a need for us to take a look at mental health [issues] because [they’re] on the rise in terms of North American universities.”

Graphic by Ana Bilokin.

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