By: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
A joint effort by SFU and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has led to the development of a two-year pilot program extending a new student support service for mental health.
On August 1, keep.meSAFE Student Support Program (SSP), a 24/7 multi-platform mental health and support service, will be made available to SFU students. The program is the end result of five months of collaboration between representatives from the university and the society.
The new initiative will be offered online and is to be integrated with the Health and Counselling Services of SFU.
“This is one of the most exciting developments I have seen in my time at SFU.” – Martin Mroz, director of SFU Health and Counselling Services
Goals of the program
Martin Mroz, director of Health and Counselling Services (HCS) explained that the goal of the pilot is to address three factors. The program is meant to create and provide increased access to health services for students, spread education about mental health and services while working to remove the stigma attached to mental health, and foster a more inclusive and empathetic community where people are able to talk about mental health.
According to Mroz, while HCS already did substantial work in the university, it needed more articulation. He talked about involving and training staff members to help spread education and “change the setting.” The hope for the two-year pilot is that it will be a key step in increasing accessibility to mental health services and ensuring the mental wellbeing of students.
When asked how he would summarize the overarching goal of the pilot program, Mroz simply stated, “Access.” The new support service will be accessible 24/7 and through multiple platforms such as phone, app, and website. Mroz stressed that existing HCS staff and resources will be very involved with the implementation of keep.meSAFE.
Under the current system, students are able to secure appointments with counsellors every two weeks. Mroz highlighted the common situations that are not covered in the current scheduling system, such as when students have an immediate need for a mental health service or when they need to speak to someone only once. The new pilot is aimed at filling these gaps by meeting immediate needs of students through ongoing short-term counselling support over the phone, video, or in-person.
Another gap keep.meSAFE is meant to fill is access to mental health services for students who are not able to physically visit the campus, such as those living or studying abroad.
As the pilot is going to be launched on an online platform, the team working on the program has been addressing potential privacy concerns regarding the information that student users would share. According to Mroz, the team has been in contact with SFU Safety and Risk Services (SRS) for expert advice on privacy concerns. While the provider of the service and their databases are stored on Canadian soil, SFU loses some control on the data when a student residing or visiting a foreign country accesses the services.
Having addressed this concern, Mroz stressed that, over the years, significant work has been done on Telehealth. He mentioned cases in the past where students have asked for videoconferencing services from HCS, a platform that keep.meSAFE can provide SFU with.
SSP will be provided by Guard.me International Insurance and Morneau Shepell. Access to keep.meSAFE will be available to all students of SFU. The two-year pilot has a fixed cost and is being funded by the university and the SFSS. The SFSS Board of Directors has approved a one-time financial contribution of $75,000 to the program.
Mroz expressed his excitement for the program, calling it “a positive initiative” and a unique service for a post-secondary institution to be offering.