Rita Knodel, Director of Counselling Services at the University of Victoria, knows just how stressful university can be for both students and administrators.
As a grad student, her studies focused on counselling psychology for post-secondary populations, and her PhD internship was with Student Counselling Services at the University of British Columbia. After working as a psychologist for a few years, she returned to campus in 1998 as a counsellor at the University of Victoria.
“My interest has always been in post-secondary populations,” she says. “I’ve always felt that the university setting is stressful for the people who work there and who study there, and when I started working at the University of Victoria I soon realized how difficult it was meeting the needs of students.”
In 2005, Rita received an invitation to take part in a new project facilitated by CMHA BC and the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. The BC Campus Project (now Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses) aimed to create a dialogue surrounding post-secondary mental health initiatives at different institutions.
“We were all facing the same struggles, and it was amazing to talk to people who understood immediately because [they] were facing the same difficulties. It really gave me the resources I needed to do the work that I wanted to do,” says Rita.
Since then, the initiative has grown from a small collaboration between four post-secondary campuses to a province-wide Community of Practice involving 23 post-secondary institutions and over 27 associated agencies and groups.
Drawing on this network of expertise, Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses helped develop the Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach. Published in 2013, the guide provides a framework for mental health promotion at post-secondary institutions across the country.
“I think the framework we developed is really important,” says Rita. ”It has so much input from so many campuses across the country. We wanted to share what we know and change the culture across the country, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Rita hopes that students, faculty and other community members will help bring the framework to life on their campuses, as well as build on the framework by joining the Community of Practice.
“Every university wants the best and the brightest,” she says. “Yet at our level we don’t need to compete for mental health resources– we need to share best practices.”
Learn more about Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses.