A holistic systems approach to campus mental health

Posted on June 13th, 2017

With commencement season upon us, post-secondary graduates around the world are getting some wonderful advice before they sail off into the “real world.” But even before they graduate, students are struggling to navigate the open waters of their lives.

And by the numbers, many of them are sinking fast.

Since 2010, even as average institutional enrollment has increased by 5 percent, the average level of counseling center use has grown by 30 percent. Among students attending counseling, the prevalence rates of “threat-to-self” characteristics have increased every year for the last six years. In 2016, a survey of 25,000 students across Ontario found that 65 percent reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the previous year; 46 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function; and 13 percent had seriously considered suicide.

At McGill University, where I taught last fall, about 3 in 5 students report feeling overwhelmed on a weekly or daily basis. Even as a professor, I was struck by how hard students have to work just to stay afloat. Their personal needs compete with their social obligations, their classes conflict with their jobs, they’re going through profound developmental changes, money is tight, they don’t sleep enough, established career paths are disappearing at every turn—and in the meantime, somehow, they’re expected to “find themselves.”

Clearly, students need help.

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