Violette Khammad, president of King's student council, and Dean of Students Joe Henry sit on the school's Friendship Bench. The Friendship Bench program started in 2014 and benches have been installed in 35 locations across Canada. Photo courtesy of King's University College

King's University College puts focus on mental health

  • October 23, 2017
When it comes to supporting mental health on campus, King’s University College has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve — from yoga to meditation headbands.

King’s, which is part of the Western University in London, Ont., is focused on increasing and improving their student mental health services this year. After experiencing a 14-per-cent increase in demand for counselling from 2015 to 2016, the school decided to take action by introducing programs to improve not only mental health, but the overall well-being of students. 

“The wait to see a counsellor used to be one to two weeks. We needed mental health services to be more accessible for students,” said Violette Khammad, president of student council at King’s and a fourth-year student studying sociology and political science. 

Many of the initiatives were inspired by conversations that took place between Khammad and her peers. “Having conversations about mental health is important, but I wanted to do something. That’s a big reason why I decided to run for president.”

Khammad, along with student affairs representative Olivia Smith-Rodrigues and several faculty members, formed the Mental Health and Wellness Committee. 

In an effort to reduce wait times and increase accessibility, King’s now offers walk-in personal counselling two days a week.  

On Sept. 12, King’s unveiled The Friendship Bench, a bright yellow bench that serves as a physical safe space for students to talk about their mental health. 

“It’s a physical symbol of the importance of mental health dialogue,” said Joe Henry, the Dean of Students at King’s. “It’s also a place for them to check in with one another.”

The Friendship Bench program was founded in 2014 and benches have been installed in 35 locations across Canada. They commemorate the memory of Lucas Fiorella, who battled depression and eventually committed suicide.

King’s has also increased the number of fitness classes it offers, including yoga, tai chi, Zumba and kickboxing. 

“Taking care of yourself and being physically active improves your overall mental health and self-esteem,” said Khammad. “I’ve gone to several yoga and Zumba classes. I find taking an hour out of my day to do something fun for myself does wonders for my mental health.” 

Funding for these initiatives comes primarily from the university, through operating dollars and dedicated student fees.

The increasing demand for mental health services is affecting campuses nationwide. 

“More students are reporting higher levels of distress,” said Joanna Bedggood, the manager of Student Wellness and Student Support Services at King’s. “I think one of the main reasons for that is that there’s a reduced stigma surrounding mental health and coping. In the past, students who weren’t coping with the pressures of school might have dropped out or suffered greatly in silence because they were reluctant to seek support.”

The school library is doing its part by offering state-of-the-art MUSE Meditation Headbands. Students can sign out the headbands just like a library book and use them to meditate at home. The headbands use biofeedback technology to measure brainwaves and responses, similar to measuring a heart rate. 

King’s also offers pet therapy, where students can take a break to play with dogs, as well as pastoral care from the campus ministry and meditation classes.

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