Crisis response worker to be stationed at University of Guelph in pilot project

The pandemic is taking its toll on the mental health of many Canadians, including young workers. As a result, demand for counselling and resources is rising, but as Anne Gaviola explains, workplace benefits are failing to keep up.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Waterloo Wellington and the University of Guelph are launching a pilot project that will see a crisis response worker stationed on campus after hours.

Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT) workers are trained mental health clinicians who have expertise in suicide prevention, mental health assessments and de-escalation techniques.

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“With the return to campus for classes, there is concern and evidence that people may be struggling with their mental health during the pandemic,” said Alison Burnett, university director of student wellness services. “We want to increase the resources available.”

Distress calls from anywhere on campus will be taken by the campus police dispatcher who will notify officers and the IMPACT worker to respond together.

For any intervention, the team will determine what next steps to take, including transferring individuals to the hospital or referring them to wellness services on or off campus.

“With IMPACT, you have a highly trained person who knows what the resources are and how to assess people,” said David Lee, director of the campus safety office. “They can tell us whether someone can be best cared for and supported in hospital or on campus.”

IMPACT and Guelph police have already been working together since 2015 and the CMHA said the partnership has been very successful and results in hospital diversions and better health outcomes for the individuals.

IMPACT workers also collaborate with Waterloo Regional Police and the OPP.

“This project is a testament of the excellent work that the IMPACT team are already doing and speaks to the successes of the overall program,” said Jeff Stanlick, CMHA Waterloo Wellington director of service.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to partner with the University of Guelph to respond to the mental health needs of students outside of regular business hours. This year is especially exceptional as students return to campus. The added pressures that the fourth wave (and ongoing pandemic) challenges bring, demand the need for accessible mental health care across the board.”

In 2020, there was a 40 per cent increase in IMPACT responses to 911 calls with police, CMHA said. But Stanlick added that existing IMPACT programs with the local police forces have reduced the number of hospital emergency admissions by about 80 per cent.

“We provide the necessary clinical intervention in the moment for the person,” Stanlick said.

“After-hours access on campus to mental health services is crucial. Having one of our staff on campus allows for seamless connection through the university’s wellness services.”

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He also said that Guelph appears to be the first university in Ontario to embed a mental health worker with campus police.

The IMPACT worker will begin at the university beginning Oct. 21 as a one-year pilot program. That person will be on campus Thursdays, 3 p.m. to midnight, and Friday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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