Ryerson University’s frosh week focuses on mental health

Ryerson University is taking on a new initiative to address the stressful reality freshman students face when making the transition to university by emphasizing the importance of mental health in their orientation program.

According to CBC Toronto, the program began Aug. 27, and will continue until Sept. 9, as many first-year students make the move into the university’s bustling downtown campus.

Stephan Allen, a health and wellness events assistant with Ryerson’s fall orientation, said they rebooted the idea from a friend’s unfinished attempt the previous year.

“Overall, I just thought it was important for a school as diverse as Ryerson to have something where students can feel represented and feel appreciated for the differences that they may have,” Allen said.

Among the range of events was a body-positive fashion show on Aug. 30, which featured designs from Ryerson students as well as local designers and models, according the Ryerson website.

According to Allen, the show was a success and received positive feedback from over 120 students via an online survey. The event received the go-ahead from several staff members to become an annual occasion, he added.

“When it comes to wellness, one of the biggest things for me is creativity. It’s about trying to find specific ways to get specific populations to be engaged and interested in the programming,” Allen said.

A new Wellness Room was created for students that preferred more “low-key” programming as an alternative to the often loud, fast-paced, outdoor frosh activities, Allen added.

Other events included fitness activities and cooking workshops to start students off with tools for self-care.

“We basically tried to provide a variety of programming that would allow different students to find the best way to be healthy and well on campus,” Allen said.

Kourtney Meldrum, a third-year transfer student at Ryerson, said she appreciated the open discourse around mental health at her program’s orientation session.

“From what I’ve witnessed, there’s just so much support out there. Especially if you’re willing to look for it,” Meldrum said. “If you’re willing to share parts or all of what’s going on in your life . . . most professors are willing to help you out in whatever way they can, because you know it’s human to feel these things.”

In May, a joint study by the Toronto Star and Ryerson’s School of Journalism showed that the demand for youth mental health services in Canada is on the rise. 

Maureen Murdock, director of Carleton’s Health and Counselling Services, told the Charlatan in July that they have nine counsellors on hand to provide individual therapy  and more are contracted as needed. Carleton’s freshman orientation programming appears to be following suit. A similar emphasis on inclusion was put in place at this year’s frosh week with the introduction of an equity team which dealt with issues of discrimination. 

Mental health awareness is a key component of fall orientation facilitators’ training, Carleton frosh facilitators Micha Bell and Hope Ace said. Bell said inclusion is also encouraged through education on LGBTQ+ communities and terminology.

“We really focus on all types of inclusion to avoid any outliers or that anybody is left out of our events based on how they identify, or maybe any mental illness that they suffer from,” Bell said.

Carleton’s program particularly emphasizes education around consent and sexual assault, and educates incoming first-year students on the variety of corresponding on-campus resources available, Bell added.

Meldrum said students are often super vulnerable because they’re stressed, and things are new and different.

“I think that if universities push to have their students mentally take care of themselves, better students and better people come out of it,” Meldrum said.

Photo by Aaron Hemens