Six Canadian universities, including Memorial University, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Lethbridge University, Mount Royal and the University of Calgary, have jointly become the first post-secondary schools in the world to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter.
The Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges calls on post-secondary institutions to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and to lead health promotion action and collaboration both locally and globally.
Supporting a vision
By adopting the charter, Memorial supports a vision to transform the health and sustainability of our current and future societies, strengthen communities and contribute to the well-being of people, places and the planet.
President Gary Kachanoski; Dr. Peter Cornish, director, Student Wellness and Counselling Centre; and Dr. T.A. Loeffler, professor and Teaching and Learning Chair, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, signed the charter at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus on Oct. 31.
Framework for leadership
Dr. Cornish says that universities and colleges have a unique capacity and responsibility to promote well-being through education, research, policies and practices that can be developed on campuses. The Okanagan Charter provides a framework for post-secondary institutions to lead this movement.
“The Okanagan Charter will encourage us to continue innovating, because it will serve as an accountability measure, encouraging us to track, celebrate and communicate our progress as health promoting institutions.”
The charter is an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges held at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C. The development process engaged researchers, practitioners, administrators, students and policy makers from 45 countries.
“Memorial is leading North America with its innovative and highly accessible Stepped Care 2.0 integrated primary care service and health promotion model, so it is fitting that we are one of the first to sign onto the charter,” said Dr. Cornish. “Dozens of colleges and universities across North America, including McGill and George Washington University, have requested and received training on Memorial’s unique model because it improves health outcomes, eliminates wait lists and is both cost efficient and more empowering for students.”
As part of Memorial’s adoption of the charter, Dr. Cornish announced several mental health and wellness initiatives planned for Memorial’s St. John’s campus, including a new Interprofessional Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, an online peer support program, a 30-day mindfulness challenge and a new space for the university community to gather, sit and share openly for well-being.
Interprofessional Student Wellness and Counselling Centre
In winter 2017 renovation will begin for a new Interprofessional Student Wellness and Counselling Centre. The centre will bring wellness researchers, educators and service providers from wide-ranging disciplines together in an incubator space designed specifically for developing and evaluating innovative health and wellness programing.
The first phase of the renovation will allow family physicians to join the existing counselling and wellness space on the fifth floor of the University Centre. The space on the fifth floor, which is currently empty, will become part of the new Interprofessional Student Wellness and Counselling Centre. Once the space is renovated, the health clinic element of the new centre will be in place in May 2017.
Online peer support
7 Cups is an online emotional support resource that will allow Memorial University students to connect with peer listeners trained in active listening. The program offers an opportunity to connect with a supportive person and engage in text-based one-on-one conversations.
This new program will help members of the Memorial University community support, encourage and empower one another and demonstrates the important benefits of social support. This program is not a mental health crisis resource and listeners do not provide therapy.
Memorial’s 7 Cups program will be launched as a healthy campus initiative in winter 2017.
30-Day Mindfulness Challenge
A university-wide Mindfulness Challenge will be launched in winter 2017. Research indicates that mindfulness can be an effective tool for managing stress, reducing anxiety and improving mental health and can aid performance and focus.
Challenge participants will have access to the MindWell program, which aims to make mindfulness fit into busy schedules with practice sessions that are brief (as short as two minutes) and accessible anywhere.
The Friendship Bench will serve as a permanent, physical, year-round reminder to students to take a moment out of their day to sit, breathe and talk (or think) about their mental health and that of their friends. It’s intended to inspire peer-to-peer conversations about mental health in order to reduce the stigma and encourage more students to seek help.
The yellow bench will be partially funded by Memorial’s winnings from the March 2016 MoodCheck Challenge.
Signing the charter
The signing of the charter took place on the first day of Thrive Week, a nationally recognized, week-long series of events focused on building positive mental health.
Memorial’s Thrive Week events include a photo challenge, yoga, meditation and social activities.
The Okanagan Charter can be found here.