President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH)

On March 14th, 2018, Michael Beauchemin, Patricia Duong, Katie Arnold, and Abdullah Barakat attended the PAC-SMH Panel Discussion. If you have any follow-up questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out to us at .

Obviously, we here at the Engineering Society are very excited to see the great gears of the University starting to turn to address the Mental Health issues on campus. That said, there are a great many details that still need to be worked out from all sides. This first step isn’t a large one, but it is an important one. The University cares and it is trying to improve the state of student mental health on campus. The Engineering Society looks forward to working with FedS, the PAC-SMH, and the University as a whole to provide input from the Engineering Student population and to represent their best interests.

The panel started off with an introduction to the PAC-SMH, and the introduction of Walter Middlestadt (heading the PAC-SMH), President Feridun Hamdallahpur, and Angela Pereira (alumna). After the forum, there were stations set up around the room where different aspects of the PAC-SMH and mental health on campus could be discussed. Full minutes of the proceedings are available publicly.

President Hamdallahpur started off by addressing the reasons for forming this committee, and other history. On February 14th, he received a report containing 36 recommendations, for review. For the President, this forum is the beginning of a process by which the university will implement all 36 recommendations, and seek to continually improve mental health on campus. Already additional counselor infrastructure has been approved, an initiative championed by former B-Society VP Academic Andrew McBurney. The next step is to look at additional supports to support mental health outside of counseling.

Walter Middlestadt is the director of campus wellness, an alumnus of Waterloo with a MA and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Walter talked about the structure of the Panels. Mental health experts, student services panel, community partners panel, an academic panel, and a student experience panel reported to the PAC-SMH, and there remains work to be done with these panels. From what we know, there are unaddressed comments and questions from the student experience panel at least, and likely others as well. Walter understands that Engineering students face some unique challenges, notably the lack of a break and high-demand courses. He then expanded on some current practices and how the University plans to address or fix issues, in broad terms.

The final speaker, Angela Pereira, is a registered kinesiologist and holistic nutritionist with several businesses, and member of the senate and senate executive committee. Angela sits on the Mental Health Experts Panel, and previously suffered from severe depression in the course of her undergraduate degree. Angela has had a fortunate experience with depression and finds it to be quite manageable now, but she wants to help students receive help. Angela wants to leave the school with the words, “Waterloo Alumni are with you.”

During the question period, some interesting things were asked and answered. Here are some salient details. President Hamdallahpur conflated competition with challenge at the University, but promised that the University would try to minimize “unnecessary stressors” and to increase transparency with respect to data like counseling wait times. He also indicated that faculty is more involved now in the mental health process than ever before. Walter thinks we need to address assessments and rankings. For students on co-op terms, the PAC-SMH is looking into alternate kinds of interactive help so people don’t have to be present, and the University wants to compile a database to be able to connect students to local resources regardless of where they live.

One international graduate student delivered a poignant commentary on student life at the University (“The campus is not alive.” ; “[The University] is industry-driven… you cannot create a sense of belonging in 4 months… A real critical thinking has to be done, especially about engineering”), and identified a lack of resources and counseling that are specifically effective for international students, who represent a large student population in the University. Walter commented that there is a greater need for peer to peer connection, and that the University and FedS are looking to take a more catalytic role in developing these connections.