Improving access to mental health support for Dalhousie and King's students

- August 30, 2017

Joanne Mills, left, and Dr. Glenn Andrea say the new Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness Centre's single point of access will improve care for students.(Sydney MacLennan photo)
Joanne Mills, left, and Dr. Glenn Andrea say the new Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness Centre's single point of access will improve care for students.(Sydney MacLennan photo)

On September 5, Dalhousie will integrate Student Health Services, Counselling and Psychological Services, and Student Health Promotion to form the new Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness Centre on the Halifax campuses.

The new centre is implementing an evidence-informed approach to health and wellness services to better address student needs and increase access to same-day professional health care, including mental health services. The shift is one of the first steps in implementing an interprofessional collaborative health-care model for students.

Interprofessional collaborative health care

An interprofessional collaborative health-care model is a partnership between a team of health-care providers, offering a collaborative and coordinated approach to shared decision-making related to health care. Collaborative health care is becoming best practice in the field and Dalhousie has acknowledged this through initiatives including the Collaborative Health Education Building that opened in 2015 and interprofessional education and activities within the Faculties of Health, Dentistry and Medicine.

Now, Dalhousie is also aligning delivery of services and supports for students with this interprofessional model by having one centralized location to access health and wellness services and support, and by implementing a shared health record system. A shared health record system means that, with consent, student health records can be accessed by more than one health-care provider in the event that a student’s needs are better addressed through collaborative care.

"Our team of counsellors, nurses, physicians, our social worker and psychiatrist are enthusiastic about the launch of a more fully integrated Student Health and Wellness Centre,” says Medical Director Dr. Glenn Andrea. “A single point of access for students to primary and mental health services along with an enhanced electronic health record system will facilitate the sharing of information among healthcare providers and improve the continuity and coordination of care for our students.”

Implementing an interprofessional health-care model within services to students is another example of how Dalhousie strives to lead by example in its efforts to improve patient care and health & wellness service delivery and support, including access to mental health.

Increasing access to mental health supports for students

Along with a centralized point of accessing collaborative health care, Dalhousie continues to deliver mental health supports using a Stepped Care approach. Stepped Care is the process of assessing and determining the best next steps for the student, which could include a full range of supports from online programs, to peer support, to ongoing counselling.

By implementing this model and approach together, Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness can offer over 100 same-day health-care appointments to students. This is in addition to booked appointments with our health-care team. Having one centralized location for primary and mental health services will also promote general access to care while reducing any potential stigma students may feel associated with accessing mental health care.

“I’m excited about the changes we are making to better support students’ mental health,” says Joanne Mills, director of counselling. “Having a central point of access will increase their ability to connect with our services and will also make it easier for other members of our Dalhousie community to refer students in need. Combining that with the extension of last year’s successful walk-in counselling pilot where students work collaboratively with a counsellor to create an individualized wellness plan, means better access and better support for our students.”

Faculty and staff

Ensuring the health and wellness of Dal’s students is a shared responsibility within the university. The change to an integrated approach simplifies the referral process and makes it easier for faculty and staff to connect students to health and wellness services.

Verity Turpin, AVP Student Affairs says, “Now students, faculty and staff won’t have to worry about trying to determine where students should go for support. Instead, there is one location, and our interprofessional health-care team will work with students to assess their next step or steps.”

Faculty and staff who are concerned about a student can refer them directly to the Student Health & Wellness Centre, or use the online student referral form at (coming soon!). Online student referrals are managed by Dalhousie’s Case Manager (a social worker), who reaches out to the referred student to determine next steps to ensure their health needs are met.

For more information about services and resources available to faculty and staff, including Dal’s Guide to Recognizing and Referring Students in Distress (Blue Folder), visit Student Health and Wellness. Faculty and staff can check their campus mailboxes in early September for a copy of this year’s Blue Folder


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