By Jim Perretta, PhD, CPsych
Date: Nov. 15, 2018
A call for action has been raised in post-secondary campuses across Ontario. According to the Council of Ontario Universities, over the past five years, the amount of students identified with mental health conditions has more than doubled. Moreover, three-quarters of mental health conditions appear for the first time before age 25.
A national online survey in 2016 revealed some additional troubling statistics (National College Health Assessment, NCHA):
• 14% of students considered suicide in the past year (versus 11% in 2013)
• 65% of students reported overwhelming anxiety in the past year (versus 58% in 2013)
• 46% of students reported a level of depression in the past year that was so high that it made it difficult to function (versus 40% in 2013)
Students have been demanding improvements to the mental health system on campuses. For example, the University of Waterloo saw a walkout of over 200 students in March 2018, who demanded more attention to mental health.
Students, family members, and other groups have developed innovative ideas to help handle the current mental health crisis on campuses.
• Following the death of their 18-year-old son Jack Windeler in 2010, Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington started The Jack Project with the intention of improving youth mental health across Canada. Twenty-four staff members now work for https://jack.org and they support a number of youth leaders who are advocating for policy changes.
• A McGill University student, Ryan Golt, openly discussed his own mental health journey and developed a blog - https://www.wellmtl.ca/ - which includes info on wellness and self-care and personal accounts from students about their family, relationships, and mental health concerns.
• Peer support programs have been increasing on university campuses. For example, the University of Waterloo offers UW MATES – Mentor Assistance Through Education and Support -https://uwaterloo.ca/campus-wellness/counselling-services/uw-mates-peer-support
• After struggling with panic attacks, a University of Waterloo student Tina Chan developed a Panic, Anxiety, and Support (PASS) Kit, which includes flash cards with reminders to cope with various stressors – UW has recently purchased thousands of these kits to start a conversation about mental health among first-year students -http://www.mypasskit.com/
•Online therapists have been incorporated on some campuses, which may be more accessible than traditional office-based therapy for some students.
•https://good2talk.ca/ is a free helpline which provides counseling and informational support for mental health and addictions to Ontario post-secondary students – 1-866-925-5454
• Several major employers of young adults (e.g. Starbucks and Manulife) have increased their mental health benefits due to increasing demands. Starbucks recently increased its annual mental health benefits to $5000- https://www.benefitscanada.com/news/starbucks-canada-employees-to-get-5000-for-mental-health-88417 - and Manulife now offers up to $10,000 - https://globalnews.ca/news/3175067/manulife-increases-mental-health-coverage-for-employees-to-10k-per-year/
Clearly, support is required from multiple sectors – schools, parents, students, governments, advocacy groups, and even the private sector. Please see this website for more information -http://cou.on.ca/reports/in-it-together/
Private practices such as the Guelph Psychology Centre can offer support for students who have mental health coverage through their parents’ insurance plans. Limited coverage may be available through student mental health plans ($400-$600). Some clinicians in private practice offer a sliding-scale for students.
If you would like assistance coping with mental health concerns, call the Guelph Psychology Centre to book an appointment - 519-265-6960.