Post-secondary groups call for boost to mental health services for students

Posted on November 7th, 2017

A coalition of Ontario student groups, colleges and universities wants the province to significantly boost services for young people struggling with mental health issues as they pursue post-secondary education, with what’s being described as a collaborative “whole community” approach.

The group is also calling for a mandatory curriculum that would teach children and teens psychological resiliency, starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

In a report released Thursday entitled “In It Together: Taking Action on Student Mental Health,” four organizations representing Ontario’s 45 colleges and universities and more than 220,000 students say providing mental health support is one of the most pressing challenges on campuses today.

But the report by the College Student Alliance, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities says it’s a challenge that post-secondary institutions can’t meet on their own.

“We’re not – and can’t be, I don’t think – primary care providers, but we’re seeing students who clearly have those kinds of needs and we really think that needs to be addressed with the whole mental health community,” said Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, which represents 24 public institutions across the province.

Both colleges and universities do provide mental health services for students, said Franklin, but increasing demand and a huge gap in government funding means post-secondary institutions can’t always meet the needs of those suffering from a range of psychological issues – from anxiety and depression to more serious illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

A recent assessment by the financial advisory firm Deloitte Canada shows Ontario’s colleges are spending about $165 million more for on-campus mental health services than they receive from the province, with the bulk of that money coming from operating budgets, she said.

While Ontario’s 21 universities have not done a similar assessment, that funding gap is likely much higher as full-time enrolment is almost double that of the colleges.

“That can’t continue,” said Franklin. “So we are asking the government to come to the table, in part to say what’s the magnitude of this challenge we’re all facing together and how do we start funding it appropriately so our students know they can rely on the supports they need when they need them.

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