Editor’s Note: This week, four organizations involved with postsecondary education in Ontario released a report dealing with one of the most pressing topics affecting the province’s colleges and universities – the mental health of students.
The incidence of depression, anxiety, stress, suicidal thought and behaviour, and a variety of other psychological conditions is prevalent among young adults. And the pressures associated with pursuing postsecondary education can certainly exacerbate such conditions ...
... Leading to a situation in which developing and delivering mental health counselling services and awareness/destigmatization programs has become a major function of institutions.
Providing a province-wide overview of progress made in this field, and challenges yet to be met, is “In It Together 2020: Foundations for Promoting Mental Wellness in Campus Communities”.
That report was released on February 26 by Colleges Ontario, the College Student Alliance, The Council of Ontario Universities, and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.
Here is the preamble of that report:
The mental health and well-being of Ontarians is a shared responsibility that requires collective action.
In any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental health challenge or illness, and by 40 years of age, half of Canadians will have, or will have had, a mental illness.
This prevalence means that, at some point or another, mental illness will impact us all.
Postsecondary students are particularly vulnerable. The onset of most mental illness and substance dependency typically occurs during adolescence and early adulthood, which coincides with the very age when the majority of students are first encountering the pressures associated with postsecondary education.
In fact, half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illnesses begin by 14 years of age, and 75 percent by 24 years of age.
An effective and easy-to-navigate mental health-care system for postsecondary students helps foster student success throughout university and college. It ensures access to the life-long tools needed to build resiliency, and to navigate a continuously changing future and rapidly evolving labour market.
That is why the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), the College Student Alliance (CSA), the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) and Colleges Ontario (CO) developed an action plan to address postsecondary student mental health in 2017.
“In It Together: Taking Action on Student Mental Health” advocated for curriculum changes that teach young people resiliency before they enter postsecondary education. It also proposed culturally diverse counselling and the use of more technology and peer counselling - all free to students, on and off campus.
Integral to the plan was that the provincial government adopt a holistic approach to support student mental health, drawing on the many strengths that community partners have to offer.
Ontario’s universities, colleges and students remain committed to supporting student mental health. Our efforts have resulted in many improvements, including a comprehensive, accessible database of community mental health service providers, and an increased awareness around the need to instil resiliency and coping skills as early as Kindergaten to Grade 12.
However, significant challenges still remain. Students continue to face long wait times for mental health services, both on campus and in the community, which has placed increased pressure on postsecondary institutions and campus service providers.
These challenges have spurred the four organizations – OUSA, CSA, COU and CO – to collaborate once again, jointly putting forward key recommendations and principles to foster a proactive approach in addressing and responding to postsecondary mental health:
• A ‘whole-of-community’ approach is vital to improving student mental health and well-being.
• All postsecondary students should have access to timely, effective, culturally relevant and flexible on-campus mental health care that responds appropriately to their needs.
• Life-long mental health and well-being for all Ontarians should be promoted through prevention, harm reduction and access to mental health care.
Prioritizing access to effective support will help prevent mental health issues from intensifying and requiring crisis intervention services from hospitals, as the provincial government works to reduce the burden of hallway health care across Ontario.
We greatly appreciate the $3.8-billion government investment over 10 years to develop and implement a mental health and addictions strategy across Ontario, and the province’s commitment to engage with health-care leaders, frontline staff and people with lived experiences to address the critical gaps in Ontario’s mental health-care system.
The unique challenges of the student-aged population require targeted investments to ensure service delivery is provided through appropriate and accessible channels.
More support for student mental health will positively impact the trajectory of students’ lives. It will create a resilient, adaptable population that can navigate through great social and economic change, while leading healthy and fulfilled lives.
Taking action on student mental health will benefit not only students, but also the communities in which they live and the province in which they want to build a future.
If we’re in it together, we can build an Ontario that is a leader in mental wellness and advocates for the well- being of its people.
The graphic below expands upon the reports general recommendations with some specific proposals.
The full report is available at https://www.collegesontario.org/en/news/in-it-together-2020