A new mental health intervention program to aid students in crisis on campus will be launched this month at the University of Guelph.

Under a novel partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Waterloo-Wellington, a mental health worker hired by CMHA will be based on campus four days a week to respond along with campus safety officers to student calls for help.

Alison Burnett, director of Student Wellness Services, said she believes U of G is the first Ontario university to embed a dedicated mental health professional with campus safety officers.

IMPACT (Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team) will begin Oct. 21 as a one-year pilot program intended to bring mental health expertise to interventions with students on campus, said Burnett.

Funded through provincial support to the University, the new service is expected to improve clinical interventions and outcomes for individuals.

Alison Burnett, Student Wellness Services

“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 Burnett. “We want to increase the resources available.”

Distress calls from anywhere on campus will be taken by the Campus Safety Office 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 hospital or referring them to wellness services on or off campus. Most of that responsibility will fall to the IMPACT worker trained in interventions and assessments.

“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.”

David Lee, director of the Campus Safety Office

The IMPACT worker will be on campus Thursdays, 3 p.m. to midnight, and Friday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight.

Student wellness staff who encounter individuals at risk during the week can proactively flag potential concerns with the IMPACT worker before the weekend.

Earlier this year, Burnett approached CMHA to inquire about launching the program on campus. IMPACT started with Guelph Police in 2015 and was expanded to both Waterloo Regional Police and Wellington OPP.

“To my knowledge, this is the first such program embedded with campus safety officers,” said Jeff Stanlick, director of services for the regional CMHA.

He said existing programs with 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,” said Stanlick, a graduate of the family and community social services program at the University of Guelph-Humber. “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.”


Alison Burnett