VIU Adds New Health Care and Mental Health Supports for Students

Nurse Practitioner Diane Middagh, left, Counsellor Michelle Daoust and Marge Huntley, Director of Student Affairs, are excited about the extra supports put in place for students this fall.

November 7, 2016 - 4:00pm

The new resources are a result of needs identified by Student Affairs and the University’s Mental Health and Well-being Task Force

More health care supports and resources for students struggling with mental health issues have come to Vancouver Island University (VIU) this fall.

Amongst the new supports available to students are the addition of a second full-time nurse practitioner and a general practitioner that comes in once a week for the Student Health Clinic; a consulting psychiatrist available one day a month; and extended hours on Tuesdays for a number of key student services. Several other initiatives are set to begin over the next year.

The improvements are based on needs that were identified by Student Affairs and the University’s Mental Health and Well-being Task Force. The task force was formed in October 2013 to review current supports and initiatives and identify opportunities for improving the services currently available for students, says Marge Huntley, Director of Student Affairs and Chair of the task force.

“By increasing services, we are addressing identified needs and gaps on campus to support students with health or mental wellness concerns,” says Huntley. “Helping our students succeed and become more fully engaged in their educational experiences is a core value at VIU and the focus of Student Affairs. The task force was established to identify areas of growth and development to ensure we have appropriate wraparound supports in place to help students succeed in school.”

Last year, the University established a Student Health Clinic in Building 200 staffed by a nurse practitioner. This fall, thanks to a continued collaboration with Island Health and the Division of Family Practice, the Clinic has been able to add a second full-time nurse practitioner to its staff, and a general practitioner who works on Tuesday mornings.

Huntley says the numbers justify the Health Clinic expansion – in the first 20 business days this September, the Student Health Clinic had 214 appointments, compared to 152 over the same time last year. At the start of September, the Clinic was serving 610 patients and as of the final week of October, that number increased to 1,077.

“We’re making health care more accessible to students – it’s right here on campus, they don’t have to travel to a walk-in clinic or the Emergency Department at the hospital,” she says. “The numbers show we’re certainly addressing the demand much better this year.”

To add to the 4.5 full-time counsellors in the Counselling Department and part-time counsellor working out of International Student Services, a consulting psychiatrist is now on-site once a month for students referred by the nurse practitioners or the general practitioner. The psychiatrist, along with one of the counsellors, is also running a psychoeducational group called Change Ways for students dealing with depression and anxiety.

Huntley says students are referred to the psychiatrist by the nurse practitioners, general practitioner and counsellors, who work together to ensure the needs of students are being met.

“The Health Clinic and the Counselling Department work together to ensure students receive the supports they need,” she says. “They’re located right next to each other, and collaborate and case consult on a daily basis.”

To improve access to key student services, the Health Clinic, the Counselling Department, Advising, Disability Services, and Financial Aid and Awards are now open until 6:30 pm on Tuesdays.

“We are also very excited about two new positions that were recently posted: an Aboriginal counsellor who will work out of the Counselling Department as well as work closely with the Elders-in-Residence and Services for Aboriginal Students; and a Mental Health Access Specialist in Disability Services, who will provide accommodation support to students and engage in outreach and education about mental illness and the stigmas that surround it,” says Huntley. “Having an Aboriginal counsellor will give students the opportunity to talk with someone who is able to provide culturally sensitive counselling and who works from a perspective that respects Aboriginal ways of being and knowing. And the Access Specialist will focus on supporting students with mental health disabilities, improving their access to education, as well as providing education for faculty and staff.”

Counsellors already run a number of workshops for faculty and staff each year on how to support students with mental health concerns, says Huntley, so the Mental Health Access Specialist will build on that work. There’s also the Early Alert system, a tool faculty use to report concerns about a student’s academic progress or well-being. 

Huntley says next up for the Mental Health and Well-being Task Force is putting together a report outlining the group’s work thus far, the recommended strategies, and where the University is in the implementation of those strategies.

For more information about the supports available to students, visit the VIU Health and Wellness Centre homepage.



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Announcements

Sign up for our VIU news and experts email